Venezuela deports alleged drug lord to Colombia

AP News
Posted: Jul 25, 2012 6:16 PM
Venezuela deports alleged drug lord to Colombia

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan authorities on Wednesday deported an alleged Colombian drug lord who is accused of smuggling cocaine to the U.S. and running Colombia's biggest right-wing criminal gang.

Diego Perez Henao was turned over to Colombian authorities along with seven other Colombians, Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said as the suspects were deported at Caracas' international airport.

Perez, 41, was captured by Venezuelan soldiers on June 3 in the southwestern Venezuelan state of Barinas. El Aissami thanked Colombian authorities for supporting the operation that led to Perez's capture.

Better known by his alias "Diego Rastrojo," Perez was indicted in 2011 in Florida on charges of conspiracy to traffic cocaine. The U.S. State Department had offered a $5 million reward for his capture.

Colombian officials have called him the leader of the "Rastrojos," or "Leftovers," a violent offshoot of the Norte del Valle cartel that engages in drug trafficking, extortion and murder as it competes with other criminal bands that grew out of the far-right militias known as paramilitaries.

At the time of Perez's capture, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called it one of the biggest recent blows against drug trafficking.

Colombian police have said Perez was pretending to be foreman of a rice farm in Venezuela's border state of Barinas, living with 10 bodyguards who posed as his workers.

Perez is a suspect in 66 homicides in Colombia as well other crimes including kidnappings for extortion.

He was a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Latin America's largest leftist rebel band, when the Norte del Valle cartel recruited him in the 1990s. Such shifts in ideological allegiance occur periodically in Colombia's drug-fueled conflict, often driven by money.

Perez became a lieutenant of Wilber Varela, a former Colombian police officer and one of that cartel's last remaining bosses. Colombian police have said that Perez and another top leader of Los Rastrojos are believed responsible for the 2008 killing of Varela in the western Venezuelan city of Merida.