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Cocaine Kingpin Nabbed in Cuba

BOGOTA, Colombia. July 9, 2004 / Luis Hernando Bustamante, a leader of Colombia's largest drug cartel that is suspected of smuggling more than $10 billion worth of cocaine into the United States, has been captured in Cuba, Colombia's police chief said Friday.

The Cuban government informed Colombian authorities that Bustamante, better known by his alias "Rasguno (search)," was detained July 2 after entering Cuba on a false Venezuelan passport, Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro told reporters.

"At this moment he is being held by the attorney general in Cuba," the police chief said. "He is one of the biggest Colombian narco-traffickers."

There was no immediate confirmation from Cuba's communist government, which has not reported on the arrest in its official media.

Colombian officials said anti-narcotics agents will travel to Cuba on Saturday to seek Bustamante's extradition.

Colombian intelligence learned that Bustamante last month traveled to Havana on a fake Venezuelan passport and notified local authorities, a police official said on condition of anonymuty.

Bustamante is among the top three leaders of the Norte del Valle cartel (search), which supplanted the Medellin and Cali drug organizations in the early 1990s and is the source of as much as 60 percent of the U.S. cocaine supply, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (search).

The U.S. Justice Department and the DEA said they couldn't confirm the arrest. U.S. officials have offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Bustamante's capture.

Colombian authorities, meanwhile, estimate that Bustamante is personally responsible for as much as half of the cocaine shipped from Colombia to the United States.

A U.S. grand jury indictment unsealed in Washington in May alleges that Norte del Valle cartel leaders sent more than 1 million pounds of cocaine from Colombia's Pacific coast to the United States through Mexico since 1990. Acting in concert with a violent right-wing paramilitary organization called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, the DEA says the cartel is responsible for at least 500 killings in Colombia.

The cartel used bribery, kidnapping and murder in their operation and even had their own wiretaps in Colombia to monitor conversations of rival drug traffickers, the indictment said. The cartel has used trucks, aircraft, speedboats and fishing boats to smuggle cocaine.

The cartel's founding leader, Diego Leon Montoya (search), appears on the FBI's most-wanted list. Montoya, however, is locked in a bitter turf war in the southwestern city of Cali against a rival drug gang led by Wilber Varela, leaving some 230 dead in the past six months alone.

Colombian authorities, however, said Bustamante has largely stayed out of that fight.

Archangel de Jesus Henao Montoya, the third top Valle del Norte leader after Bustamante and Diego Montoya, was captured Jan. 15 in Panama and immediately extradited to the United States, where he was charged with conspiracy to import cocaine and conspiracy to launder money.

Henao, 49, is also accused of employing members of the AUC to protect the cartel's drug routes and laboratories and has been implicated in several murders.

Source: Fox News