TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The Honduran Supreme Court on Monday upheld the United States’ extradition request for former President Juan Orlando Hernández, paving the way for what may be the most high-profile drug trafficking case in New York since the trial of Mexican cartel boss Joaquín Guzmán as El Chapo.
In a unanimous decision, the court denied a request by Mr. Hernández’s attorneys to block the extradition request filed by the United States in February. The decision exhausted the former president’s last resort in order to avoid a trial abroad.
US officials have accused Mr Hernández, who resigned in January after his party suffered a landslide defeat in November’s general election, of colluding with drug cartels to ship tons of cocaine into the United States in exchange for financial support for his political party to deliver. according to the extradition request.
US officials say that under Mr. Hernández, Honduras has become one of the largest drug hubs in Latin America and that the former president has allowed cartels to infiltrate the highest echelons of his country’s government.
Collusion with cartels has exacerbated Honduras’ already chronic corruption and undermined its democracy, contributing to mass migration out of Honduras and the loss of Mr Hernández’s party in last year’s elections.
His successor, Xiomara Castro, has promised to overtake what she called the “narco-state” set up by Mr. Hernández.
Honduran police officers surrounded the former president’s home on February 15, just minutes after Ms. Castro’s officers said they had received the extradition request.
The former president was led from his home in shackles later that day, shocking a Central American nation used to officials operating with impunity. As impromptu celebrations erupted that evening in the capital, Tegucigalpa, Ms. Castro’s supporters chanted, “Juancho is going to New York” and called Mr. Hernández by his nickname.
While Ms Castro has been quick to crack down on former government officials implicated in crimes, she has so far shown little desire to punish allies, clouding perceptions of her anti-corruption promises, Honduran analysts said.
In a handwritten letter posted to social media on Monday by Mr. Hernández’s wife, Mr. Hernández wrote that he was an innocent victim of the revenge of the drug cartels, whose extradited members gave US prosecutors false information about him for his fight against organized crime.
The letter also conveyed his waiver of a long prison sentence. “I come to the conclusion that three life sentences could make me a walking dead,” he wrote.
The extradition request, submitted to the Honduran Supreme Court and seen by The New York Times, alleges that Mr. Hernández participated in a “violent drug trafficking conspiracy” that has transported 500 tons of cocaine from Venezuela and Colombia to the United States since 2004 has Honduras. The document alleges that Mr Hernández received millions of dollars in bribes to facilitate deliveries and protect traffickers from prosecution.
The former president’s brother, Juan Antonio Hernández, is serving a life sentence in the US for cocaine trafficking. Another convicted cocaine dealer who implicated former President Geovanny Fuentes was sentenced to life in prison earlier this year.