The 53-year-old, whose stint as president in 2014-2022 was plagued by corruption charges, risks spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
AFP witnessed Hernandez’s departure from an air base in Tegucigalpa on a Drug Enforcement Administration plane bound for the United States.
Hernandez is accused of facilitating the smuggling of some 500 tons of cocaine – mainly from Colombia and Venezuela – into the United States via Honduras since 2004, long before his presidency.
In turn, according to a document from the US embassy, he is said to have received “millions of dollars in bribes… from multiple drug smuggling organizations in Honduras, Mexico and other places.”
Less than three weeks after he left office after the election, a warrant was issued at Washington’s request for Hernandez’s arrest, and he surrendered to police on February 15.
He was subsequently held in a special police prison in the capital Tegucigalpa.
Hernandez portrayed himself as an ally of the US war on drugs during his tenure, helping to extradite several narcotics kingpins.
Washington even supported his re-election in 2017 despite a constitutional one-term limit and allegations of vote fraud.
But since then, several drug traffickers have told US prosecutors that they paid bribes to the president’s inner circle, and by the time he left office, US drug enforcement officers were ready to take action against Hernandez.
US prosecutors say the former president of Honduras has created a “narco-state” by involving the military, police and civilians in the drug trade into the United States.
An alleged associate of Hernandez, Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, was sentenced in the United States in February to life imprisonment and a $151.7 million fine for smuggling tons of cocaine with the help of the ex-president, prosecutors said.
And his brother, ex-Congressman Tony Hernandez, was sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States in March 2021 for drug trafficking offenses in which Juan Orlando Hernandez was alleged to have been a co-conspirator.
This month, a judge approved the extradition to the United States of former National Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla, accused of leading drug trafficking operations for Hernandez.
The former president denies the charges against him.
Hernandez left office on January 27 when leftist Xiomara Castro became president of this country, which has a poverty rate of at least 60 percent among its 10 million inhabitants.
On March 28, the 15-member Supreme Court of Honduras — all judges appointed during Hernandez’s first term — upheld his extradition.
In a statement, the former president’s family protested his “innocence” saying he was a “victim of revenge by the drug traffickers he himself had extradited or forced to flee to the United States”.
These had told lies about Hernandez in an effort to reduce their own sentence, the relatives said.