Police have captured a top Colombian drug lord who is said to responsible for “huge volumes” of drugs entering the United States.
Panamanian police reported the capture of Arcangel de Jesus Henao Montoya, a leader from one of Colombia’s most powerful cartels, early on Saturday in a remote part of southern Panama.
Colombian officials said today they will seek the extradition of Henao Montoya, believed to be a top leader of the Norte de Valle drug cartel, which operates out of the city of Cali in southwestern Colombia.
“He is wanted by the Colombian justice system, and we will make an extradition request,” Colombia’s attorney general, Luis Camilo Osorio, told Caracol Radio.
Colombian officials confirmed that Henao Monotoya is wanted in the United States on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Osorio said a US extradition request was “probable”.
Henao Montoya was arrested in the southern city of Torti and taken to the capital, Panama City, according to Carlos Bares, the chief of Panama’s national police. Others were arrested with him.
In late December, police captured Juan Carlos Montoya, another senior member of the Norte de Valle cartel, and brother to the alleged leader, Diego Leon Montoya.
The two men, cousins to Henao Montoya, are wanted in the United States.
Henao Montoya also was placed on the US Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers for his role in bringing “huge volumes” of illegal drugs to the United States. The designation prohibits US citizens from doing business with Henao Montoya in an effort to isolate and incapacitate him.
Osorio said a US extradition request would leave it up to Panama to decide which country gets first priority. In choosing, Panama would consider which request was filed first and in which country the most serious crimes were allegedly committed.
In January of last year, the Colombian press reported that Diego Leon Montoya, Henao Montoya and two other Norte de Valle kingpins offered to surrender to Colombian authorities in exchange for a promise that they would not be extradited to the United States.
The proposal was relayed to the government by a Roman Catholic bishop, and was being studied by the government.
The Colombian government in the past has negotiated deals with drug kingpins that included promises not to extradite them to the United States. The traffickers, including the late Pablo Escobar, were allowed to live in luxurious Colombian prisons.
Escobar escaped from prison in 1992 and was killed by police the next year. The Cali Cartel took over the world cocaine trade after his death.
With the imprisonment of several Cali drug lords in the mid-1990s, Colombia’s drug trade was divided up among various smaller organisations, including the Norte de Valle Cartel.
Henao Montoya’s arrest comes a week after authorities arrested Simon Trinidad, a top commander of the nation’s largest rebel group, in neighbouring Ecuador. The rebel group – called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC - uses drug trafficking to help finance its four-decade war against the Colombian government.
Colombia is the world’s largest producer of cocaine and a major supplier of heroin to the United States.