Colombia extradited a paramilitary warlord to the United States on Wednesday for trial on drug charges, accusing him of violating a peace pact by selling drugs and commanding illegal militia fighters from prison.
A grim-faced Carlos Mario Jimenez, handcuffed and wearing a black bulletproof vest, was escorted onto a Super King 350 plane in a Bogota airport hangar shortly after midnight — a scene shown in a video released by police.
Authorities said he was flown to Washington via Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Later Wednesday, officials announced the seizure of 25 homes, 23 vehicles and six businesses belonging to Jimenez that they valued at $20 million — as well as goods including 26 watches and 14 Mont Blanc pens.
The extradition sent a message to other jailed warlords that they, too, could be shipped abroad to face stiffer prison sentences if they revert to crime, authorities said.
Colombia's police chief, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, told Caracol radio that authorities have some evidence other militia bosses are continuing to run criminal groups from jail, "but not enough to make judicial decisions."
The Supreme Court ruled last month that Jimenez should not leave the country until he confessed to his crimes and provided reparations to victims.
Colombia's top judicial panel overturned that decision on Tuesday, and he was hustled out of the country just hours later.
Least cooperative of 50 warlords
The 42-year-old Jimenez, known by the alias "Macaco," surrendered in December 2006 as part of a peace pact with the government. More than 31,000 paramilitary fighters have demobilized under the 2003 deal, which requires that top commanders confess to crimes in exchange for reduced sentences.
But Jimenez was among the least cooperative of some 50 warlords, and in August he became the first to be stripped of peace deal benefits that include protection from extradition. Now he is the first to be extradited.
In February, the U.S. Treasury Department named Jimenez as a specially designated narcotics trafficker, freezing any of his assets in the U.S. and prohibiting any American citizen from doing business with him. Washington also accuses him of money laundering and financing terrorist groups.
Many victims of the private militias — which killed thousands of people and stole millions of acres of land — opposed Jimenez's extradition, arguing that sending him overseas would hurt efforts to seek compensation for his victims and prosecute his partners in crime.
Attorney Alirio Uribe of the National Victims' Movement said Jimenez's absence means the bodies of many victims will never be found.
But Judge Angelino Lizcano, speaking for the seven-judge panel Tuesday, said prosecutors can still travel to the United States seeking information to help victims.
Before his surrender, Jimenez was accused of ordering massacres and of shipping tons of cocaine to the United States. Prosecutors say that while in jail, he became involved in a new gang war in northern Colombia.
Colombia's paramilitaries were organized and funded by wealthy landowners and drug traffickers in an effort to wrest control of the countryside from leftist insurgents.