SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian police on Tuesday arrested a man said to be one of Colombia’s most violent drug traffickers and wanted by U.S. authorities for shipping thousands of tonnes of cocaine to the United States.
Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, 44, was seized around dawn at an apartment in Aldeia da Serra, Sao Paulo state, in an operation against an international smuggling and money-laundering ring, a federal police statement said.
The U.S. State Department describes Ramirez Abadia -- nicknamed Chupeta, or lollipop -- as one of Colombia’s most significant cocaine traffickers and a leader of the Cali-based Norte del Valle cartel.
It says he is extremely violent and had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.
In a March 2004 indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Washington, Ramirez Abadia is accused of shipping about 500 tonnes of cocaine worth in excess of $10 billion from Colombia to the United States between 1990 and 2004.
A federal police spokesman in Brasilia said the Supreme Court was processing a U.S. extradition request and if approved, Ramirez Abadia would be transferred to the United States.
The Brazilian police statement said Ramirez Abadia is suspected of ordering the murders of hundreds of people in Colombia and the United States, including police and informers.
It said the gang targeted in Tuesday’s sweep exported huge quantities of drugs to Europe and the United States and laundered the profits in Brazil via Spain, Mexico and Uruguay. It invested the money in real estate, including mansions and hotels, industry and cars.
The operation across six states followed a two-and-a-half year investigation.
Ramirez Abadia has been involved in drug trafficking since at least 1986, the U.S. State Department said. He was previously indicted in the United States in 1994 and 1996 but the Colombian government turned down extradition requests.
He has served prison time in Colombia but carried on his drug trafficking activities from behind bars.
The U.S. government says Ramirez Abadia also smuggled thousands of tonnes of cocaine to Texas, California and New York in the mid-1990s, setting up a financial network using a Colombian pharmaceutical distribution company as a front.