Police acting on an informant's tip captured one of Colombia's main cocaine traffickers hiding in a tractor-trailer's secret compartment — just days after killing his twin brother.
Miguel Angel Mejia, 48, was seized late Thursday at a roadblock in the steamy river town of Honda, about 60 miles west of Bogota, said Col. Cesar Pinzon, the head of Colombia's judicial police.
His twin and alleged trafficking partner, Victor Manuel Mejia, was killed Tuesday in a police raid on a ranch in Colombia's northwest.
"Roughly half of Colombia's criminal underworld was controlled by them," Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told reporters at a military base near where Mejia was captured.
"This blow strikes at the heart of drug trafficking because these twins had the most important organization after Don Diego and Varela," Santos said, referring to Diego Montoya and Wilber Varela, both reputed leaders of Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel. Montoya was captured last year and Varela was killed in Venezuela in February.
"How good that the head of this snake has been cut off," Interior Minister Carlos Holguin told RCN radio.
The U.S. government had offered a $5 million reward for each twin and sought their extradition in 2004 for drug trafficking. Santos said Miguel Angel Mejia's extradition is likely to be granted.
The brothers allegedly began trafficking in the 1990s. Colombian police estimate they were shipping between 4 and 10 tons of cocaine a month to the United States and Europe.
As many drug traffickers did in the early part of this decade, the Mejias joined far-right paramilitary groups seeking to benefit from a peace pact with the government that offered reduced sentences and suspended extradition orders.
But the twins went on the run in late 2006 rather than be transferred to prison with the other warlords.
Paraded before reporters
A grim and haggard-looking Mejia, dressed in a green T-shirt, blue jeans and black boots, was paraded before reporters at the military base.
Santos said police had been tracking the Mejias for three weeks and that Miguel Angel was bound for Bogota when captured. He said a reward would be paid to the informant, who was not identified, but he did not specify the amount.
Authorities found Miguel Angel Mejia "nearly completely asphyxiated" behind a secret panel in the truck cab's sleeping department, a pistol in his belt, Pinzon said.
"Congratulations. You won," Mejia told his captors.
The driver of the tractor-trailer asked permission to turn on the truck, saying he wanted to keep the battery charged, but was denied. Pinzon said he actually sought to run the air conditioner so Mejia wouldn't suffocate. Both the driver and his assistant were arrested.
Police initially believed they had killed Miguel Angel Mejia on Tuesday after they found his identity papers at the ranch where his twin was slain. Three bodyguards were arrested at the ranch and two were killed, police said.
The paramilitaries, created in the early 1980s to counter the leftist rebel threat, became lords of vast swaths of Colombia, massacring hundreds and stealing millions of acres of land. Most militia bosses also trafficked in drugs.