Mr. Hernandez, 53, extradited on April 21 from Tegucigalpa, appeared in federal court in Brooklyn, wearing navy blue pants, a shirt and orange sneakers.
Before judge Kevin Castel, he replied in Spanish “not guilty”, in particular of participation in the trafficking of 500 tons of cocaine between 2004 and 2022 to the United States.
The next hearing has been set for September 28, when the date of the trial to judge the former Honduran head of state (2014-2022) will be decided. This trial, where he faces life imprisonment, should not be held before the beginning of 2023.
According to American justice, Mr. Hernandez is a “co-instigator” of the traffic and has made Honduras a “narco-state” by involving the army and the police in drug trafficking to the United States.
The fall was brutal for JOH, as he is known in Honduras. No sooner had he ceded power on January 27 to the new left-wing president Xiomara Castro than he found himself arrested and chained at the wrists and ankles on February 15 in front of the cameras. Before being extradited on April 21.
His lawyer Raymond Colon complained on Tuesday about the conditions of his client’s detention, treated as a “prisoner of war” and a “terrorist”. In the courtroom, the former Honduran president was called a “rat” and a “murderer”.
Meanwhile, former Honduran police chief Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, 61, was extradited to the United States: Escorted by an impressive police motorcade from his prison to an army base from the air, he boarded a plane of the American anti-drug agency (DEA).
He is being prosecuted in the United States for having “abused his position in the Honduran police to circumvent the law and play a key role in a vast international drug trafficking conspiracy”.
According to the prosecution, “on behalf of former Honduran Member of Parliament Tony Hernandez and his brother, President Juan Orlando Hernandez, Mr. Bonilla supervised the transshipment of multi-ton shipments of cocaine destined for the United States”.
In March 2021, Tony Hernandez, brother of Juan Orlando, was sentenced in New York to life imprisonment.
As for JOH, he also allegedly received millions of dollars from various drug trafficking organizations in Honduras, Mexico and other countries. In exchange for these bribes, the former president would have “protected drug traffickers from investigations, (avoiding their) arrest and extradition”, according to American justice.
Mr. Hernandez says he is innocent and “victim of cartel revenge”.
JOH, who had shown himself as a champion in the fight against drug trafficking, had initially been considered by the United States as an ally. Washington was in 2017 one of the first states to recognize his re-election while the opposition denounced fraud against the backdrop of demonstrations which had killed around thirty people.