Sunday, June 4, 2023

Alleged Colombian cocaine kingpin surrenders to US

Colombian soldiers arrange packages of cocaine after a seizure (AFP/File, Raul Arboleda)

BOGOTA — A Colombian wanted for allegedly smuggling tons of cocaine bound for the United States surrendered to US officials after months of negotiations, and may help track down other traffickers, police said Monday.

The United States had offered a $5 million reward for the capture of Javier Calle Serna, a former leftist guerrilla who allegedly commanded a paramilitary group called Los Rastrojos that protected drug trafficking networks.

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Bogota police chief Jose Roberto Leon said Calle surrendered to DEA agents in Aruba on Friday and was taken to New York, where he was indicted in 2009 on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine.

US authorities say Calle’s drug trafficking networks likely smuggled more than 30 tons of cocaine into Mexico since 2008, using speedboats, fishing vessels and semi-submersibles to move the drugs.

Justice Minister Juan Carlos Esguerra said Calle negotiated his surrender with the DEA, and suggested he would be able to provide information on other top Colombian drug dealers.

“It’s a clear and resounding message to all drug traffickers,” Leon told reporters. “They have few days of freedom left.”

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Leon singled out by name Daniel “el Loco” Barrera, reputed to be Colombia’s top drug trafficker, as heading an organization responsible for smuggling as much as 900 tons of cocaine to the United States or Europe in recent years.

“The only way out for the drug traffickers, the terrorists and the heads of drug trafficking groups, is to turn themselves in to the Colombian justice,” Leon said.

Colombia is the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, turning out 350 tons of the drug in 2010, according to UN estimates.

The police chief said negotiations to secure Calle’s surrender had taken months, as authorities squeezed his organization, including a freeze on his assets in the United States and a possible deal involving Calle’s fugitive younger brother, Luis Enrique.

Such negotiations to nab traffickers have raised concern for triggering prison sentences considered too short after extradition to the United States. Justice Minister Juan Carlos Esguerra raised the issue with US State Department officials in a visit last month.

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