Colombian drug lord Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia was extradited to the U.S. on Friday to face racketeering charges, a year after he was captured in a luxurious hideout on the outskirts of South America's largest city.
Ramirez Abadia was flown before dawn from a prison in central Brazil to the jungle city of Manaus, where he was handed over to agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, said Romeu Tuma Jr., a high-ranking Justice Ministry official.
Tuma said that Abadia was being flown to New York City in a U.S. government plane.
Tuma said the extradition was not revealed earlier "for obvious security reasons." He would not elaborate, but the prison were Abadia was staying was attacked earlier this year by armed gunmen who were apparently trying to free Ramirez Abadia and Brazilian drug lord Luiz Fernando da Costa.
Prison officials said earlier this month that they foiled a plot to stage another prison attack and a wave of kidnappings to terrorize judicial officials.
Ramirez Abadia has acknowledged trafficking cocaine and prosecutors say his Norte de Valle cartel shipped 500 metric tons of cocaine to the United States from 1990 to 2003. He was captured last year in Brazil.
Abadia radically altered his facial appearance with repeated plastic surgeries in an attempt to avoid capture in Brazil. But his own words gave him away, thanks to advanced voice recognition technology that has become a key tool in the war against drugs and terrorism.
U.S. agents last year managed to confirm his identify by using the equivalent of a vocal fingerprint, according to Sergio Alambert, who served as Ramirez Abadia's lawyer immediately after his arrest.
Brazilian police had closed in on Ramirez Abadia's properties in and around Sao Paulo, and were probing his alleged laundering of the Colombian cartel's drug profits. But because of his surgeries and multiple aliases, they lacked the positive identification needed for an arrest warrant.
They got their break by taping his telephone conversations, the lawyer said. Colombian officials provided a recording they had of Ramirez Abadia, and both sets of recordings were passed to the DEA, which made the match.
Police then swooped in on 22 locations in six Brazilian states, catching Ramirez Abadia in a luxurious home with a gym, sauna, plasma TVs, a swimming pool and nearly $1 million in stashed cash.