By Manuel Jimenez
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Reuters) - - Authorities in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday arrested a former police colonel accused of being a "powerful drug trafficker" responsible for sending tons of cocaine to the United States.
Francisco Hiraldo Guerrero, chief operating officer of the country's main counter-drug agency, the National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD), between 2006-2008, would be extradited to the United States where he faces four counts of drug trafficking in the Southern District of New York, the government said.
The announcement of Hiraldo Guerrero's arrest and extradition was made at a joint press conference by the nation's Attorney General, Francisco Dominguez Brito and the head of the DNCD, General Rolando Rosado Mateo.
The extradition request stated that at least four witnesses, including three who have pleaded guilty in the United States, detailed how Hiraldo Guerrero allegedly used his position to protect large cocaine shipments destined for the United States.
One witness alleged that the colonel was paid as much as $2.5 million to protect 25 loads of cocaine at an average of 880 pounds (400 kilograms) shipped between 2007 and 2009.
Another witness alleged that in 2008, Hiraldo Guerrero requested to be paid in drugs rather than cash to protect a shipment of 1,500 pounds (700 kilograms) of cocaine.
The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo could not be reached for comment on Wednesday evening.
About 4 percent of the cocaine that is smuggled into the United States passes through the Caribbean island of Hispaniola which is shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, according to the U.S. Department of State's annual narcotics control report for 2012.
Dominican authorities seized about 6.7 tons of cocaine in 2011, the report said.
"Dominican law enforcement, military and government officials are often accused of a range of corrupt activities including narcotics trafficking, money laundering, extrajudicial killing and other crimes," the report added.
In the most notorious case to date, authorities arrested a former army captain, Quirino 'The Don' Paulino Castillo, in December 2004. He was later extradited to the United States where he was imprisoned on drug charges.
Rosado Mateo said Hiraldo Guerrero had served 14 years in different posts at the DNCD.
(Additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by David Adams and Todd Eastham)