“You Beat Me” Says This Caught Drug Lord

colombian-drug-lord-DairoAntonioUsuga
Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, was seized after a joint operation by the army, air force and police on a rural hideout in Antioquia province in north-western Colombia, close to the border with Panama on October 23, 2021. The government had offered an $800,000 (£582,000) reward for information about his whereabouts, while the US placed a $5m bounties on his head. The operation involved 500 soldiers supported by 22 helicopters. One police officer was killed. (Photo by Colombian Armed Forces / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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By Luis Jaime Acosta and Oliver Griffin

NECOCLI, Colombia, Oct 24 (Reuters) – The man Colombia describes as the world’s most dangerous drug trafficker told security forces: “You beat me” when he was captured during an operation this weekend, the government said on Sunday, pledging to extradite him swiftly to the United States.

Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, was caught by Colombia’s armed forces during an operation in a rural area of Colombia’s Uraba region, Antioquia province, which involved more than 500 members of Colombia’s special forces and 22 helicopters, officials said on Saturday.

Otoniel is accused of exporting hundreds of tonnes of cocaine each year, while President Ivan Duque said on Saturday he is also responsible for killing police officers, recruiting minors and sexually abusing children.

Colombia’s government will file a petition on Monday with the Andean country’s Supreme Court to extradite Otoniel to the United States, Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz told Reuters on Sunday, adding the process could take four weeks to complete.

“Extradition awaits all those who commit international crimes,” Defense Minister Diego Molano told journalists in Necocli, close to where Otoniel, 50, was captured.

Colombia had offered a reward of up to 3 billion pesos (about $800,000) for information concerning Otoniel’s whereabouts, while the U.S. government had put up a reward of $5 million for help locating him.

Both rewards will be paid, Molano said, while describing Otoniel as “the worst kind” of criminal.

Otoniel rose to become the leader of the drug-trafficking group Clan del Golfo, or Gulf Clan, following stints as a left-wing guerrilla and later as a paramilitary.

The Clan del Golfo has a presence in 12 of Colombia’s 32 provinces, and counts some 3,800 members, according to information provided by Colombia’s national police.

Clan del Golfo is involved as well with illegal mining, authorities say. The government also accuses the group of threatening and killing community leaders across the country.

Colombia’s police chief, General Jorge Vargas, said much of the information leading to Otoniel’s capture came from Clan del Golfo members.

“A lot of Clan del Golfo’s people betrayed him,” Vargas said.

Otoniel trafficked between 180 tonnes and 200 tonnes of cocaine a year with the Clan del Golfo, and is responsible for the deaths of more than 200 members of Colombia’s security forces, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Colombian authorities launched Operation Agamemnon in 2016 as they worked to close in on Otoniel, killing and capturing dozens of his lieutenants, going after his finances and forcing him to be constantly on the move, according to police.

In 2017, a video in which Otoniel announced his intent to submit to justice was published, but the plan never came to fruition.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Necocli and Oliver Griffin in Bogota; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Grant McCool; Editing by Peter Cooney)