A Colombian model accused of leading a drug-trafficking gang that persuaded pretty young women to smuggle cocaine to Mexico was arrested Wednesday after evading Argentine police for five months.
Angie Sanclemente Valencia had been hiding out in Buenos Aires since December, when airport police caught a 21-year-old Argentine woman with 55 kilograms (121 pounds) of cocaine in her baggage boarding a flight to Cancun. That led to arrests of six other alleged gang members who allegedly fingered Colombia's former "coffee queen" as a ringleader.
Argentina's media quickly dubbed Sanclemente the "Narco Queen," but two officials involved in the case told The Associated Press that her specific role in the smuggling organization has not been established.
"When they organized the trafficking of cocaine to Mexico, she participated in the meetings," said one of the sources, both of whom agreed to discuss the case on condition they not be identified because the investigation was still open.
Police were able to determine Sanclemente's identity because she had made quite an impression upon her arrival in Argentina, flying first class with a Pomeranian dog, the other official said.
The 30-year-old model, her dark hair dyed blonde, was captured Wednesday in a hostel for foreigners in the fashionable Palermo neighborhood, airport police spokesman Maximiliano Lencina said.
Lencina declined to discuss the evidence, but said Sanclemente "was an important figure in the organization" that allegedly recruited pretty young Argentine women to smuggle cocaine on flights to Cancun.
Police figured she was still in Argentina: She declared her innocence on Facebook, where she posted pictures of Buenos Aires dated after Interpol issued a warrant for her arrest, and her mother arrived in the country weeks ago to help with her defense.
"She is no drug trafficker, nor is she the queen of cocaine," her mother, Jeannette Valencia, declared after the arrest.
"There are bad intentions — a plot against her. She will prove her innocence," Valencia told reporters after police prevented her from entering her daughter's room.
Judicial authorities already rejected a request for special treatment from her lawyer, Guillermo Tiscornia, who said Sanclemente had not turned herself in for fear that her looks would expose her to rape or other mistreatment in a common prison.
Sanclemente had "fear that they will rape her, that they will cut her face" in prison, her mother added.
"I feel great anguish and desperation. I can't rest, I'm very sad that the Argentines have treated me so badly, wiping away the trash with me. I don't deserve this," Valencia told the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.
Sanclemente, a native of Barranquilla, Colombia, won her country's National Coffee Queen beauty pageant in 2000. Then 21, she was forced to give up her crown when it was discovered she was married at the time in violation of pageant rules.