NEW YORK.- Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández pleaded not guilty in his first appearance in a New York court on Tuesday after being extradited to the United States on charges related to drug and arms trafficking.
Dressed as a prisoner in a dark blue uniform and wearing a mask, Hernández arrived at court walking with chains on his legs. He bowed his head to those present and put his hand on his heart minutes before he addressed the judge to indicate that he was not guilty of the charges against him.
The New York Prosecutor’s Office indicated that the evidence in the case against the former Honduran president is based on recordings, data from electronic devices, information from social networks and physical evidence.
All the information will be delivered to the defense in 60 days and the new hearing has already been scheduled for September 28. Judge Kevin Castel set a preliminary trial date for January 17, 2023.
In a statement to Univision before the hearing, Hernández’s attorney, Raymond Colón, complained about prison conditions and “inhumane and psychologically damaging treatment.” [a Hernández]…as if he were a prisoner of war; instead of a former head of state.” He also said that Hernández has no communication with his family or his lawyer, and that he is not allowed a Kosher diet.
Hernandez is detained in solitary confinement
Before the judge on Tuesday, Colon said that Hernández was held in solitary confinement in a special cell unit at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center where he had been denied access to his attorneys for nearly two weeks. He also has not been allowed access to email or phone calls with his wife and her family in Honduras, who have been denied visas to visit New York, Colon said.
“He’s not a terrorist, he hasn’t harassed anyone,” Colon told the judge, drawing jeers from some Honduran immigrants in the audience. At the end of the hearing, some spectators yelled “rat” and “sorry, Juan Orlando narco.”
On the street outside the courthouse, the defense team was greeted by a crowd of protesters holding anti-Hernandez banners and shouting “murderer.”
“I want to see justice,” said Natalie Guevara, a 54-year-old house cleaner from New York who asked for time off to attend the hearing. “He and his family did a lot of damage to our country,” added Guevara, who emigrated from Honduras 20 years ago.
Hernandez’s defense tries to collect $3 million bail
Bail was not discussed at the hearing, but Colon told Univision that the defense is preparing a proposal to take it to the judge. The defense is trying to raise $3 million to secure bail, and Hernandez agrees to home confinement on a farm outside New York arranged by a local rabbi.
Hernandez wants to convert to Judaism, according to the defense team. The former president is being supported by New York rabbi Aron Lankry in gratitude for his solidarity with Israel over the controversy surrounding the international recognition of the disputed city of Jerusalem as his capital, according to sources close to the rabbi.
Lankry, who has a synagogue in Monsey, a city north of New York, was appointed by Hernández as chief rabbi of Honduras in 2019.
Hernández is being visited at the Brooklyn detention center where he is being held by Rabbi Yosef Cohen, a former Dominican Republic Navy captain who speaks Spanish.
This is how Honduras handed over former President Juan Orlando Hernández for extradition to the US
Hernández: former ally of the United States
U.S. prosecutors said Hernández, a former Washington ally, received millions of dollars from drug traffickers, including Mexico’s Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, while he ruled Honduras from 2014 to early 2022.
Hernandez earned praise for his collaboration, especially from the Trump administration in its efforts to curb migration from Central America.
The Biden administration has instead focused on attacking corruption in Central America, hoping to eradicate the underlying causes of migration from the region to the United States.
According to the indictment against him, Hernández used money from drug traffickers to enrich himself and finance his political campaigns, in exchange for protecting traffickers from arrest and giving them access to law enforcement information. He faces three criminal charges, including cocaine trafficking conspiracy and weapons possession.
Hernandez has strongly denied the accusations, portraying himself as a fierce opponent of drug cartels and accusing traffickers of trying to get revenge to get their sentences reduced.
Defense detective: “The drug traffickers are trying to reduce his sentence” accusing Juan Orlando Hernández
In his statement to Univision, Colón said that his client is innocent and that “this accusation amounts to a character assassination disguised as an accusation.”
He accused the Justice Department of “a misguided crusade” against “the United States government’s greatest ally in the ‘war on drugs,’ based on fabricated evidence and revenge-vendetta by the very drug criminals the President extradited while he was in prison.” in the power”.
David Adams reported from New York and Jeff Ernst from Mexico City.