A reputed drug kingpin was captured Monday following a shootout, police said, ending a years-long hunt for a man wanted by American officials for allegedly smuggling tons of cocaine into the United States.
Eugenio Montoya Sanchez is believed by authorities to be a leader of the Norte del Valle drug cartel, which the FBI lists on its Web site as the “most powerful and violent drug-trafficking organization in Colombia.”
Together with his brother Diego Montoya Sanchez — the alleged mastermind of the cartel that operates out of the southern city of Cali — he is wanted for extradition by a U.S. federal court in Miami for smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States.
U.S. anti-narcotic authorities in Colombia had offered a $5 million reward for the capture of each of the brothers.
Eugenio Montoya Sanchez, who goes by the alias Don Hugo, was arrested in the town of El Dovio, 125 miles west of Bogota following a shootout, police said. There were no reports of any injuries.
The Norte del Valle cartel became Colombia’s most powerful after the dismantling of the Medellin and Cali cartels in the 1980s and early 90s. Officials believe it is responsible for as much as 30 percent of the more than 550 tons of Colombian cocaine smuggled each year to the United States.
Allied with right-wing death squads
To protect its valuable drug routes, the cartel is believed to have worked closely with right-wing death squads whose umbrella organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, is listed as a terrorist organization by Washington.
Authorities have been closing in on the cartel since last year, when the army killed eight members of a private army believed to be protecting Diego Montoya, who sits alongside Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted list.
Since taking office in 2002, President Alvaro Uribe, a key U.S. ally in Latin America, has approved the extradition of nearly 500 Colombians to the United States, the majority on drug-trafficking charges. For his aggressive stance, the United States has awarded Colombia with more than $700 million in annual anti-narcotic aid.
Most of those extradited have been low or midlevel drug traffickers. High-profile extraditions have included Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, brothers who helped found the Cali cartel.
Colombia is the source of 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States. Supply has remained robust despite record extraditions and eradication of coca crops.