BOGOTA, October 23 (Reuters) – Colombian armed forces have captured Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, in the biggest blow to drug trafficking in the Andean country since the death of Pablo Escobar, said on Saturday President Ivan Duque.
Otoniel, 50, was captured during Operation Osiris in a rural area of the Colombian region of Uraba, located in the province of Antioquia. He is accused of sending dozens of shipments of cocaine to the United States, and Duque said he was also accused of killing police officers, recruiting minors and sexually abusing children, among other crimes.
Colombia had offered a reward of up to 3 billion pesos (approximately $ 800,000) for information regarding Otoniel’s whereabouts, while the US government had offered a reward of $ 5 million to help him. locate it.
“This is the biggest blow against drug trafficking in our country this century,” Duque said in a video broadcast. “This blow can only be compared to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s.”
A police officer died during the operation, Duque said.
Otoniel became the leader of the Clan del Golfo, or Gulf Clan, drug trafficking group after stints as a leftist guerrilla and later as a paramilitary.
The del Golfo clan has around 1,200 armed men – the majority of former members of far-right paramilitary groups – and is present in 10 of Colombia’s 32 provinces.
In addition to drug trafficking, the del Golfo clan is involved in illegal mining, authorities say. The government also accuses the group of threatening and killing community leaders across the country.
Although Duque said the capture of Otoniel represented the end of the del Golfo clan, Colombia risk analysis director Sergio Guzman said a new leader would surely be waiting to take over.
“It’s a big deal because he’s the biggest pillar of drugs in Colombia,” Guzman said, adding that the capture would not change the fundamentals of drug trafficking. “Otoniel is doomed to be replaced.
Colombian authorities launched Operation Agamemnon in 2016 as they scrambled to get closer to Otoniel, killing and capturing dozens of his lieutenants, preying on his finances and forcing him to be constantly on the move, according to the police.
In 2017, a video was released in which Otoniel announced his intention to submit to justice, but the plan never came to fruition.
In March, Colombian police and the US Drug Enforcement Agency captured Otoniel’s sister, Nini Johana Usuga, who was extradited to the United States to face charges related to drug trafficking and money laundering. .
Operation Osiris involved more than 500 Colombian special forces and 22 helicopters, according to Defense Minister Diego Molano.
($ 1 = 3,780.38 Colombian pesos)
Reporting by Oliver Griffin, Nelson Bocanegra and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Richard Chang and David Gregorio
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