Guatemala's alleged No. 1 drug trafficker captured

AP News
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Posted: Mar 30, 2011 9:59 PM
Guatemala's alleged No. 1 drug trafficker captured

The reputed top drug trafficker in Guatemala was captured Wednesday in a joint operation involving the government and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, authorities said.

Juan Ortiz Lopez, who is wanted in Florida on cocaine trafficking charges, was arrested at a house in the western city of Quetzaltenango, along with two suspected accomplices, Interior Minister Carlos Menocal said.

Ortiz, alias "Chamale," was under surveillance for seven days during the operation by Guatemalan intelligence agents and the DEA, Menocal said. He was captured six months after one of his reputed top lieutenants was arrested as part of the same investigation, which also involved the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other U.S. agencies.

"This is a big fish and we are satisfied with his capture. It's a great achievement by this government," Menocal said.

A U.S. federal indictment unsealed Wednesday in Florida charges Ortiz with two counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill said in a statement. The suspect faces up to life in prison if convicted.

It was unclear if there were any immediate extradition plans.

"For over a decade, Ortiz-Lopez's drug organization received multi-ton cocaine shipments in Guatemala, which would then be transported through Mexico to the United States, where the cocaine would be further distributed," according to O'Neill's statement, which was sent to The Associated Press by the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala.

The DEA considered Ortiz to be the highest-ranking drug trafficker in Guatemala, and the U.S. Justice Department had designated him a "consolidated priority target," the statement said.

A related investigation led to the Oct. 2 capture of one of Ortiz's alleged lieutenants, Mauro Ramirez Barrios.

Ramirez is charged in Florida with smuggling 3.7 tons (3,335 kilograms) of cocaine since 2007. He was arrested in the southern Guatemalan town of San Bernardino two weeks after he escaped police during a shootout at a Guatemala City shopping mall that killed two officers.

Ramirez, who allegedly hired fishermen to smuggle drugs through Mexico, was the leader of one Ortiz's principal maritime transportation organizations, according to the statement from O'Neill.

(This version CORRECTS place of arrest to Quetzaltenango instead of Guatemala City)