Colombia's Otoniel pleads not guilty to U.S. drugs charges, detained pending trial

NEW YORK, May 5 (Reuters) - Dairo Antonio Usuga, the accused leader of Colombia's Clan del Golfo criminal group, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to U.S. drug trafficking charges and was ordered detained in New York pending trial, one day after being extradited from Bogota.

Usuga, known as Otoniel, shipped "outrageous quantities of cocaine into the United States" while leading the Clan from 2003 until last October, when he was captured by Colombian armed forces, said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in Brooklyn, New York.

At a press conference, Peace described Otoniel as "one of the most dangerous, most wanted drug kingpins in the world."

Peace said Otoniel orchestrated more than 40 cocaine shipments larger than one ton to the United States, while Colombia holds Otoniel responsible for the deaths of hundreds of members of the country's security forces.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera Scanlon ordered Otoniel's detention at a Thursday afternoon hearing, saying the charges were serious and that the defendant posed a "significant risk of non-appearance" in future proceedings if bail were granted.

Otoniel pleaded not guilty through his lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, to two charges of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiring to manufacture and distribute cocaine.

Prosecutor Gillian Kassner said the government would not move forward with a third charge over firearms use.

Hernandez did not challenge his client's detention, but disputed Kassner's claim that the danger of releasing Otoniel "cannot be overstated."

"We certainly don't agree with their evaluation," Hernandez said.

Otoniel wore an orange jumpsuit while attending the hearing.

Colombian President Ivan Duque on Wednesday compared Otoniel to the late trafficker Pablo Escobar, and said his extradition "shows nobody is above the Colombian state."

Extradition to the United States, Bogota's top ally, is among Colombia's main weapons for fighting drug trafficking.

In an apparent response to the extradition, the Clan del Golfo said it would enforce a curfew in parts of Colombia's northern Magdalena and Bolivar provinces, warning residents not to open businesses or leave their homes.

Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Editing by Will Dunham and Alistair Bell

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Thomson Reuters

Reports on the New York federal courts. Previously worked as a correspondent in Venezuela and Argentina.