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Honduras judge says ex-president can be extradited to U.S.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras >> Former President Juan Orlando Hernández should be extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking and weapons charges, a Honduran judge ruled Wednesday.

The country’s Supreme Court of Justice said late Wednesday via Twitter that the judge had decided to grant the U.S. extradition request.

U.S. prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have accused Hernández in recent years of funding his political rise with profits from drug traffickers in exchange for protecting their shipments. He has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Before the decision was announced, court spokesman Melvin Duarte said that during a hearing earlier in the day, Hernández addressed the court. “In general terms he argued about the motives that have led to this extradition process against him, which he and his wife have said publicly,” Duarte said.

Hernández has maintained that statements against him have been made by drug traffickers extradited by his government who wanted to seek revenge against him. He denies having any ties to drug traffickers.

He will have an opportunity to appeal the extradition decision.

During the hearing, the judge presented a document sent by the the U.S. Justice Department through the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa that laid out the charges against Hernández. Hernández’s lawyers also presented at least 20 pieces of evidence in his defense.

Hernández left office in January at the conclusion of his second term.

The judge had more time to reach a decision, but in 32 previous extradition cases the decision came in less than a week. All of those decisions were for extradition.

Criminal lawyer German Licona said before the announcement that if the judge ruled for extradition, Hernández could appeal to the full Supreme Court.

Hernández was arrested at his home on Feb. 15 at the request of the U.S. government.

The arrest came less than three weeks after Hernández left office and followed years of allegations by U.S. prosecutors of his alleged links to drug traffickers. His brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, was sentenced to life in prison on drug and weapons charges in March 2021.

After his arrest the former president was led before cameras flanked by police, shackled at the wrists and ankles, and wearing a bulletproof jacket. On Wednesday, he appeared in court wearing a blue suit but was similarly shackled.

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