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Top drug kingpin in Colombia will be extradited to U.S. within a month, defense minister says

Ivan Duque, presidential candidate for the Democratic Center, addresses supporters on May 27, 2018, in Bogota, Colombia. (Daniel Garzon Herazo/Zuma Press/TNS)

Dario Antonio Úsuga, known widely as Otoniel, the most wanted drug trafficker in Colombia until his arrest last week, will likely be extradited within a month to face charges in the United States, Colombia’s defense minister told McClatchy this week.

The feared leader of the Urabeños cartel is accused of exporting around 200 tons of cocaine each year while his 3,000-men-strong organization has been blamed by President Ivan Duque for a long array of violent crimes including recruiting and sexually abusing children and killing police officers.

“We expect that the [extradition] process doesn’t take more than 20 days to one month,” Diego Molano Aponte said in an interview. “The minister of justice in Colombia is working with our prosecutor’s office and the United States in order to proceed as soon as possible.”

Úsuga has open indictments for drug trafficking in at least three different U.S. courts and might face other charges under seal.

Otoniel was arguably Colombia’s most powerful drug kingpin, with the Defense Ministry pointing the finger at him for the deaths of more than 200 members of the Andean country’s security forces. After his arrest, Duque said it was one of the “the hardest blows” dealt to drug trafficking in this century, comparable only to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s.

But experts warned that Otoniel did not quite have the same control over his organization as Escobar had over the Medellín Cartel, which means that his organization could soon fragment into different groups led by regional leaders.

“The horizontal nature of the Urabeños means that specific regional leaders may see their loyalties to the group weaken and strike out alone,” the website reported.

Soon after the arrest, the Colombian press speculated that Otoniel has detailed information that could incriminate Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro, who is also facing drug-trafficking charges in the U.S.

But Molano said that Colombian intelligence agencies don’t have any information linking the Urabeños with Maduro or the Venezuelan drug trafficking organization made up by high ranking members of his regime, known as the Cartel of the Suns.

“We do not have this information in our intelligence agencies. Definitely, the military regime of Venezuela with Maduro, they have a clear and complete relationship with the ELN and with FARC dissidents,” Molano said.

Both guerrilla groups, the ELN and the dissident elements of the FARC, are alleged partners to the Venezuelan cartel, which also has a close relationship with the Mexican cartels in order to export the coca through the Caribbean or through the Pacific Coast, he added.

Colombia is keeping a close eye on its eastern neighbor, given the growing tension between both countries, heightened last June when a helicopter carrying Duque was hit with multiple bullets. The plot, according to Molano, originated in Venezuela.

“What happened, and is clearly information that we have from our intelligence activities and our police, is that the attempt against the president was planned and financed in Venezuela, in the Venezuelan territory, operated by the FARC dissidents,” the minister said.

“As you may know, the regime of Venezuela protects dissidents of FARC, dissidents in Venezuela. And these are responsible for this attack, not only on President Duque but also to the 17th Brigade, where we have some of the American technical consultants,” he said.


© 2021 Miami Herald

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