U.S. charges 10 accused Mexican drug cartel leaders

WASHINGTON Thu Aug 20, 2009 11:31am EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ten accused Mexican drug cartel leaders were among 43 defendants charged with conspiring to smuggle billions of dollars worth of cocaine into the United States, but most of them remain at large, U.S. authorities said on Thursday.

The United States, which has been seeking to crack down on drug trafficking and violence along the border with Mexico which has escalated recently, seeks the forfeiture of more than $5.8 billion in drug proceeds as part of the charges.

They announced the charges brought in New York and Chicago against the accused leaders and other high-ranking members of several of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels, along with other Mexican and U.S. defendants.

"The cartels whose alleged leaders are charged today constitute multi-billion dollar networks that funnel drugs onto our streets," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

Among those charged were Joaquin Guzman Loera, Ismael Zambada Garcia and Arturo Beltran Leyva, who were accused of being among the most powerful drug traffickers in Mexico. If captured and convicted, all but one of the defendants face up to life in prison.

According to the charges, the defendants were responsible for importing into the United States and distributing nearly 200 tons of cocaine and large amounts of heroin into the United States between 1990 and the end of last year.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that some 90 percent of the cocaine that comes into the United States comes via Mexico.

(Reporting by James Vicini and Jeremy Pelofsky, Editing by Sandra Maler)

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