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Honduran ex-president pleads not guilty to U.S. drugs, weapons charges

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Honduras former President Juan Orlando Hernandez is escorted by authorities as he walks towards a plane of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for his extradition to the United States, to face a trial on drug trafficking and arms po

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By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez pleaded not guilty to U.S. drug and weapons charges in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday following his extradition last month from the Central American country.

U.S. prosecutors have accused Hernandez, a former U.S. 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. Hernandez used the money to enrich himself and finance his political campaigns, prosecutors said.

Hernandez entered the plea at an arraignment before U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel.

He faces three criminal counts, including conspiracy to import cocaine as well as weapons possession.

Hernandez 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.

Raymond Colon, a lawyer for Hernandez, has said his client is innocent and called the case a “vendetta masquerading as a prosecution.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment.

Honduran police arrested Hernandez pursuant to a U.S. extradition request in February, the month after he left office. He was flown to the United States from the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa on April 21 aboard a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plane. A U.S. judge later ordered Hernandez detained pending trial.

Hernandez’s younger brother, former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez, was sentenced to life in prison in 2021 after being convicted in Manhattan on federal drug trafficking charges.

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