A judge in Honduras granted the extradition of former president Juan Orlando Hernandez to the United States, where he is wanted for alleged drug trafficking, the Central American country's Supreme Court of Justice said on Twitter.

A judge "decided to accept the request for extradition presented by the Court of the Southern District of New York against ex-president of the republic Juan Orlando Hernandez Alvarado," the court said Wednesday.

The decision can still be appealed within three days of its writing, judiciary spokesman Melvin Duarte said, in which case the Supreme Court's panel of justices would weigh in.

The former president, who held office from 2014 to 2022, is accused of having facilitated the smuggling of some 500 tons of drugs -- mainly from Colombia and Venezuela -- to the United States via Honduras since 2004.

US prosecutors have alleged Hernandez, 53, received millions of dollars from drug traffickers for protection -- including from Mexican narco-kingpin Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman.

He faces three charges: conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the United States, using or carrying firearms including machine guns, and conspiracy to use or carry firearms.

New York prosecutors linked the former president to the crimes during the trial of his brother, former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez, who in March 2021 was sentenced to life in prison in the United States for drug trafficking.

Hernandez's lawyers claimed the "United States has not sent any sufficient and irrefutable evidence" linking the former president to drug-trafficking.

But Duarte said that only a "minimal burden of proof" was required to approve extradition requests

Juan Orlando Hernandez delivers a speech as president of Honduras in August 2021 in Tegucigalpa
Juan Orlando Hernandez delivers a speech as president of Honduras in August 2021 in Tegucigalpa AFP / Orlando SIERRA

Hernandez, a right-wing lawyer, departed office on January 26 when leftist Xiomara Castro became president.

Before his eight-year presidency, Hernandez had led the country's Congress, taking a pro-US stance and supporting Washington's fight against drug trafficking.

"Today is a very sad day for our family... I repeat to the whole world and all of Honduras, my husband is innocent, he is a victim of a conspiracy and the vengeance of drug-traffickers who were once extradited from this country," said Hernandez's wife Ana Garcia.

She said those drug-traffickers were striking plea bargains by implicating Hernandez.

Controversy has never been far away from Hernandez since he entered politics.

Re-election is banned by the Honduran constitution, but Hernandez was allowed to stand for a second consecutive time in 2017 following a ruling by the Supreme Court.

His subsequent victory, after initially trailing opponent Salvador Nasralla by five percentage points with more than half of the votes counted, sparked accusations of fraud.

He has been held in custody since surrendering to police on February 15, a day after Washington requested his extradition.

Wearing a smart suit, Hernandez arrived at court surrounded by a contingent of special forces police, who also accompanied him back to prison after his hearing.