Retired Colombian police, army officers arrested in cocaine smuggling ring |

Retired Colombian police, army officers arrested in cocaine smuggling ring

BOGOTA, Colombia – Active and retired police and army officers working for one of Colombia’s largest cocaine cartels used commercial cargo planes to ship drugs to the United States, authorities said Tuesday in announcing seven arrests.U.S. officials, who are seeking the extradition of the seven, said the case illustrates the reaches of Colombia’s notorious drug rings and the danger posed by corruption among the country’s security and transportation workers.Among those arrested are a retired police major and captain, a former army lieutenant, two police officers and an employee of Colombia’s national airline, Avianca. The seventh suspect was described as a liaison between the active and former police officials and the Norte del Valle cartel, one of Colombia’s largest drug traffickers. Police said the cartel used Avianca’s cargo plans to transport the drugs.”There is a national security component to this case,” said Boyd Johnson, chief of the international narcotics trafficking unit at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.Authorities said the seven would be extradited to New York to stand trial on charges they smuggled more than 900 pounds of cocaine bound for the United States. Police said they seized 1,200 pounds of cocaine linked to the cartel in a warehouse in northern Bogota on Monday.The arrests, beginning Monday night, were based on a U.S. indictment in New York that alleges the Norte del Valle cartel recruited the airline worker and police involved with security at El Dorado Airport.It alleges the ring shipped the cocaine in October through Avianca’s cargo facility after an airline employee approved false paperwork. The drugs were allegedly destined for the United States via Mexico.Two patrolmen let the shipment go through security and guarded it for three days at the airline cargo area, the indictment alleges. The cocaine noted in the indictment was seized in Mexico City by Mexican law enforcement agencies on Oct. 17, it adds.If convicted, the defendants could face anywhere from 10 years to life in prison, though the United States has assured Colombia that it will not seek life sentences for defendants extradited from there.Colombia is the world’s largest producer of cocaine. In the last four years, nearly 350 Colombians have been extradited to the United States to stand trial on drug trafficking charges.The Norte del Valle cocaine cartel is considered to be one of the largest mafias operating in Colombia. One of its leaders, Diego Montoya, sits alongside Osama Bin Laden on the FBI’s ten-most-wanted list.—Associated Press writer Nahal Toosi in New York contributed to this report.Vail, Colorado

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