New York, Apr 22 (EFE).- Honduran ex-President Juan Orlando Hernandez made his first appearance before a New York federal judge on Friday, a day after he was extradited to the United States to face trial on drug-trafficking and weapons charges.
During the short session, Magistrate Judge Stewart D. Aaron set a May 10 date for Hernandez’s next hearing.
Evidence will be presented then against Hernandez, who served as head of state of that impoverished Central American nation from 2014 until Jan. 27 of this year, less than three weeks before he was arrested pursuant to a US extradition request.
The Honduran Supreme Court approved that request on March 28 and the Constitutional Chamber rejected the ex-president’s final appeal on April 6.
The 53-year-old Hernandez connected via video-link from the prison where he was sent on Thursday, saying through an interpreter that he was aware of the charges he faces and knows he could be sentenced to life behind bars.
The indictment handed down by the US Department of Justice alleges that between around 2004 and early 2022 Hernandez “participated in a corrupt and violent drug-trafficking conspiracy to facilitate the importation of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States.”
He also “allegedly received millions of dollars to use his public office, law enforcement and the military to support drug-trafficking organizations in Honduras, Mexico and elsewhere.”
Federal prosecutors in New York charged Hernandez with conspiracy to import controlled substances into the US and with two other counts pertaining to the use of machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of the smuggling operation.
All three counts are punishable by up to life in prison.
Hernandez appeared calm and was very attentive to the explanations of his attorney, Raymond Colon, during Friday’s hearing.
The judge informed the defendant of his rights but did not require him to enter a plea during that initial court appearance.
Colon told the judge that Hernandez accepts being detained but also reserves the right to file a bail application.
Some Honduran citizens entered the spectator seating area to watch their ex-president’s appearance.
A more rowdy group gathered at the entrance to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, where they yelled out that Hernandez is a drug trafficker and demanded that he be sentenced to three life terms.
The ex-president’s brother, Tony Hernandez, was sentenced in March 2021 in the US to life in prison after being convicted of smuggling nearly 204 tons of cocaine into the country over the course of 15 years.
The court heard testimony that Tony funneled millions of dollars in bribes to then-President Hernandez, who denied the accusations of drug links and denounced his brother’s sentence as “outrageous.”
Over the course of roughly 15 years, the Hernandez brothers trafficked more than 500,000 kilograms (1.1 million pounds) of cocaine, according to the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa. EFE