THE FORMER President of Honduras has been extradited to the United States on drug trafficking charges.
Juan Orlando Hernandez will now face drug trafficking and weapons charges, in a dramatic reversal for a leader once touted by US authorities as a key ally in the war on drugs.
Just three months after leaving office, Hernandez boarded a plane handcuffed to agents from the US drug enforcement administration bound for the US, where he faces charges in the southern district of New York.
Hernandez was arrested at his home in Tegucigalpa in February at the request of US authorities.
He was shackled and paraded in front of journalists, a sight many Hondurans never imagined seeing.
Honduran officials have said the three charges Hernandez will face are conspiracy to import and distribute drugs to the US, using firearms in support of a drug trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to use firearms in support of drug trafficking.
Honduras’ supreme court rejected his appeal against a judge’s decision in favour of extradition.
US prosecutors have accused Hernandez of fuelling his political rise with money from drug traffickers.
The payments were made in exchange for Honduran authorities allowing them to operate or for information allowing them to evade interdiction.
Hernandez has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. In a video message released Thursday he said: “I am innocent, I have been and I am being unjustly subjected to prosecution.”
He has said he is the victim of drug traffickers he extradited who are now lying to seek revenge.
Hernandez’s brother Tony Hernandez, a former congressman, was sentenced to life in prison in the same US court on essentially the same charges.
Juan Orlando Hernandez took office in January 2014 and held the presidency until this January, when Xiomara Castro was sworn in as his replacement.
Castro campaigned on rooting out Honduras’ corruption and Hernandez was seen as the largest target.
Hernandez’s transport via helicopter under heavy guard from the police base where he was held to the airport Thursday was covered live by local television outlets.
Some Hondurans stood outside the airport’s perimeter fence to catch a glimpse of the former president boarding the plane with US authorities.