September 22, 2007 / 3:43 AM / 12 years ago

Panama to probe island-owning Colombian drug lord

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama said on Friday that it would investigate how a known Colombian drug trafficker managed to obtain Panamanian residence, ID cards, bank accounts and even a $12 million private island without being noticed.

President Martin Torrijos said a probe would be opened into how Jose Urrego, who was detained by Colombia in the 1990s for drug smuggling, carried on illicit activities unnoticed in Panama for at least three years until his arrest last week.

Urrego, 53, was arrested on Chapera Island, off the Pacific coast. Police said he was working as communications chief for Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel.

Since then police have revealed that Urrego owned Chapera island, valued at $12 million, and had deposited large sums of money in a Panamanian bank account, apparently unnoticed by authorities.

Urrego, who was arrested in 1998 in Colombia for activities related to drug smuggling and served a short prison term, obtained a Panamanian identity card in 2004 and went on to establish businesses in Panama.

Panama’s banking sector has long tried to shake off its image as an international money laundering center amid criticism of its safeguards against the entry of illicit funds.

On Friday, Torrijos admitted the Urrego case had damaged the country’s image, but vowed to continue the fight against money laundering and narco-trafficking.

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