Former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández has pleaded not guilty in a New York court to drug and weapons charges as his lawyer pledged to subpoena three former US presidents – and an imprisoned Mexican drug lord – to testify in his defence.
Hernández, who was extradited last month, wore shackles round his ankles at his arraignment in Manhattan on Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty to three criminal counts, including conspiracy to import cocaine and weapons possession.
US prosecutors have accused Hernández, once seen as a close US ally, of receiving millions of dollars from drug traffickers in exchange for protection from arrest while leading Honduras from 2014 until January of this year. Hernández used the money to enrich himself and finance his political campaigns, prosecutors said.
Outside the court, his lawyer Raymond Colón said that he plans to subpoena Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Donald Trump to vouch for Hernández, who was the first Honduran president to agree to the extradition of drug traffickers from the country.
“Why not? Biden may be busy running the country, but I can’t think of anything that Trump is doing that’s important and I know that Mr Obama is retired, so …” Colón said.
Colón also said he would subpoena the Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who is serving a life sentence in the US on drug trafficking charges.
Earlier, Colón told the judge that Hernández has been held for three weeks in solitary confinement like a “prisoner of war”.
“We’re not asking for him to get special treatment because he’s a former head of state, but these conditions are psychologically debilitating,” he said. “He’s not a terrorist,” Colon said. “There’s no violence in his history.”
The former president has been named in a string of court cases in New York, with prosecutors telling one jury that Hernández had allegedly plotted with a notorious trafficker to “shove the drugs right up the gringos’ noses”.
Hernández has denied the allegations, portraying himself as a fierce opponent of drug cartels and accusing traffickers of smearing him to get revenge and lighten their sentences.
The Trump administration turned a blind eye to the accusations while Hernández continued to bend to the will of its migration agenda. But the Biden administration, which has pledged to fight corruption as part of its plan to address the root causes of migration, shunned the outgoing president during his last months in office.
A spokesperson for the US Bureau of Prisons confirmed Hernández was being held at the Brooklyn detention facility but declined to comment on “any individual inmate’s conditions of confinement”.
Judge Kevin Castel set a tentative trial date of 17 January.
Source: The Guardian