Colombia’s most wanted drug trafficker and leader of the largest criminal gang in the state has been arrested. Dairo Antonio ugsuga, known as Otoniel, was captured on Saturday during a joint operation by the army, air force and police.
The government had offered a $ 800,000 reward for information leading to his whereabouts, while the United States had offered $ 5 million for his head.
Colombian President Iván Duque in a televised message praised the authorities for capturing Otoniel.
“This is the biggest blow against drug trafficking in our country in this century. “This blow can only be compared to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s,” he said.
Otoniel was captured in the province of Antioquia in northwestern Colombia, near the border with Panama. He had used a network of safe houses to move around and avoid arrest. According to authorities, he had not used a mobile phone but had used his couriers to communicate. However, according to the newspaper El Tiempo, his whereabouts were discovered about two weeks ago.
The operation to capture him involved 500 soldiers, backed by 22 helicopters. A police officer was killed during the operation.
According to police chief Jorge Vargas, his movements were tracked through satellite imagery. UK and US agencies had been involved in the operation to find Otoniel.
Otoniel, 50, became the head of the Gulf Clan, formerly known as the Usuga Clan, after the previous leader, his brother, was killed by police during a raid nearly ten years ago.
Colombian authorities describe the gang as the most powerful criminal organization in the country, while the US authorities have described it as a “heavily armed and very violent” organization.
The gang, which operates in many provinces, has many international connections and is involved in drug and human smuggling, illegal gold mining and extortion.
The Otoniel gang controls many routes used for drug trafficking from Colombia to the US, but also to other states, including Russia.
Otoniel now faces a range of charges, including cocaine trafficking in the US, the murder of police officers and the recruitment of children.
The United States has filed charges against him in 2009 and he faces extradition.
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