Top Colombian drug trafficker captured

AP News
Posted: Nov 28, 2011 9:20 PM
Top Colombian drug trafficker captured

A top Colombian drug trafficker has been captured in Venezuela and will be turned over to U.S. authorities, officials said Monday.

The U.S. had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, known as "Valenciano," who was also on Colombia's most-wanted list.

The arrest was announced by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as he met with Venezuela with President Hugo Chavez.

U.S. officials say Bonilla has sent tons of cocaine to the United States through Central America and Mexico, dealing extensively with Mexico's Zetas drug cartel.

Bonilla will be deported and turned over to U.S. authorities to face charges, Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said.

He said Bonilla was captured Sunday at a home in the central city of Maracay and had the equivalent of about $180,000 in Venezuelan currency.

Santos said Colombian authorities had provided intelligence to Venezuelan authorities, who tracked down Bonilla.

"He's one of the most recognized drug traffickers, who has caused terrible harm to our country," Santos said. He added that Bonilla's capture was "truly a very high-value objective" for Colombian authorities.

"We know that your people, your authorities ... were after this individual for some time," told Chavez at the presidential palace. "This is a very good welcome gift."

The Venezuelan leader called the arrest "a happy coincidence."

Both presidents said it was an example of increased cooperation between their authorities.

Venezuelan authorities appointed a team to try to track down Bonilla in March because they had information he had been traveling back and forth between the neighboring countries, El Aissami said. It wasn't immediately clear how authorities eventually tracked him down.

He is being held in Caracas while U.S. authorities make arrangements to pick him up, El Aissami said.

The U.S. government has accused Venezuela of failing to take adequate steps to curb drug trafficking. El Aissami said that while the United States "attacks Venezuela's anti-drug policies, we respond with results."

Bonilla, 39, allegedly headed a Medellin-based criminal organization dating back to the 1980s that once recruited hit men for the late cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Santos said Bonilla was the boss of an organization called the "Oficina de Envigado," named after the town of Envigado near Medellin.

The U.S. State Department listed Bonilla among its eight most-wanted Colombian drug traffickers after leftist rebels.

Wanted on a 2008 federal indictment from New York's eastern district for drug trafficking, Bonilla received cocaine from various sources in Colombia, including the rebels, Colombian and U.S. officials say.


Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera and Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia, and Patricia Rondon Espin in Caracas contributed to this report.