Colombia extradites top drug gang leader to U.S.

BOGOTA Wed Aug 28, 2013 1:22pm EDT

Colombian National Police escort Diego Perez Henao, also known as ''Diego Rastrojo'', suspected leader from International drug gang ''Los Rastrojos'' who was deported from Venezuela, during a news conference at the military base in Bogota July 25, 2012. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

Colombian National Police escort Diego Perez Henao, also known as ''Diego Rastrojo'', suspected leader from International drug gang ''Los Rastrojos'' who was deported from Venezuela, during a news conference at the military base in Bogota July 25, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia extradited Diego Perez Henao, one of the country's most wanted gang leaders, to the United States on Wednesday to face charges for alleged cocaine trafficking and involvement in hundreds of murders, Colombia's prison authority said.

Henao, who goes by the alias Diego Rastrojo, was handed over to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials under tight security at a military airport in Bogota, the Colombian capital, and put on a U.S.-bound plane.

One of the heads of the Rastrojos criminal gang, Henao was captured in Venezuela in June 2012, then deported home to Colombia. A $5 million bounty was offered for his capture.

News pictures showed Henao being escorted to the plane by Colombian police, handcuffed and wearing a blue "Los Angeles" polo shirt.

Colombia's five main criminal gangs, which have around 3,800 members, were mostly formed after the disbanding of right-wing paramilitary groups in 2006.

Many of the paramilitary units morphed into criminal gangs supplying cocaine to cartels in Mexico and the United States, making the arrest of their leaders a top priority for Washington in its battle against drug trafficking.

Colombia is one of the world's top cocaine producers, making around 300 tons a year even after U.S.-backed efforts to stamp out the illegal trade. The country's leftist guerrillas, the FARC and the smaller ELN group, levy taxes on local production of coca but deny involvement in trafficking the drug.

The coca leaf is the raw material used to make cocaine.

The government has been in peace negotiations with the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, since last November. Both the FARC and ELN, or National Liberation Army, are considered terrorist organizations by the United States and European Union.

(Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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