A US judge has sentenced former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez to 45 years in prison and imposed a fine of USD 8 million for drug trafficking offences, CNN reported.

Hernandez has previously denied the charges against him. At his sentencing on Wednesday, he insisted that he was innocent and was “wrongly and unjustly accused.”

Earlier in March, a jury in New York found Hernandez guilty of three drug trafficking charges after a two-week trial in Manhattan federal court. He denied the charges.

He was extradited from Honduras after the US Department of Justice filed three drug-trafficking and firearms-related charges against him in 2022.

Prosecutors had accused Hernandez, 55, of conspiring with drug cartels during his tenure as they moved more than 400 tonnes of cocaine through Honduras towards the United States, as reported by CNN.

In exchange, prosecutors said, Hernandez received millions of dollars in bribes that he used to fuel his rise in Honduran politics.

Hernandez was president of Honduras from 2014 to 2022.

According to the US Justice Department, during his years in office, Hernandez “protected and enriched the drug traffickers in his inner circle,” using his executive power to support extraditions to the US of certain drug traffickers “who threatened his grip on power” while “promising drug traffickers who paid him and followed his instructions that they would remain in Honduras.”

Prosecutors also said that members of the conspiracy in which Hernandez participated relied on the Honduran National Police to protect cocaine shipments as they moved through the country, CNN reported.

In a statement, US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Hernandez “abused his position as president of Honduras to operate the country as a narco-state where violent drug traffickers were allowed to operate with virtual impunity, and the people of Honduras and the United States were forced to suffer the consequences.”