BOGOTA (Reuters) - The ringleader of a ruthless Colombian criminal gang that controls several important cocaine smuggling routes has been arrested by Venezuelan armed forces, Colombian police said on Sunday.
Diego Perez Henao, a Colombian for whose capture the U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward, was arrested near the Venezuelan-Colombian border in the early hours of Sunday, said Jose Roberto Leon, deputy director of Colombia’s police force.
“One of the most sinister drug traffickers and murderers of our country has been captured,” Leon told reporters.
Henao is considered a high-ranking member of “Los Rastrojos” (The Leftovers), a violent criminal gang that controls several smuggling routes and is said to be responsible for moving tons of cocaine into the United States every year.
“This ‘Rastrojo’ was in charge of important drug-smuggling operations ... he’s to blame for hundreds of crimes, missing people, killings and extortions,” said Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami.
The group’s kingpin, Javier Antonio Calle, turned himself in to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency on the Caribbean island of Aruba in early May.
Perez Henao took over command the Rastrojos following Calle’s arrest, Colombian police said.
Some drug traffickers in the Andean country are in talks to hand themselves in to the DEA, which has offered them lighter prison sentences in the United States if they provide information on other drug traffickers and smuggling routes.
The Rastrojos often battle other criminal organizations, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), for control of the cocaine trade.
The killing of Wilber Alirio Varela, alias “Jabon” (Soap), a rival cocaine trafficker, allowed Javier Antonio Calle and his brother, Luis Enrique, to gain control of some key smuggling routes in the Colombian Pacific coast and cement ties with Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel.
Luis Enrique is still at large, but their brother, Juan Carlos, was arrested in Ecuador in March.
Aided by billions of dollar in U.S. aid, Colombia, one of the world’s biggest cocaine exporters, has made progress in recent years in combating leftist FARC guerrillas and paramilitary groups that finance themselves with drug sales.
Some of them have strong ties with Mexican drug cartels.
Reporting By Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing By Eduardo Garcia. Editing by Christopher Wilson