Top Colombian drug trafficker Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco captured
Tuesday 29 Nov 2011 3:24 p.m.
By Ian James
A top Colombian drug trafficker reputedly responsible for shipping tons of cocaine to the United States through Central America and Mexico has been captured in Venezuela.
The US had offered a US$5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, also known as "Valenciano," who was also on Colombia's most-wanted list.
Colombian authorities told The Associated Press that Bonilla was captured Sunday. The information was later confirmed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who was in Venezuela meeting with President Hugo Chavez.
"He's one of the most recognised drug traffickers, who has caused terrible harm to our country," Santos told Chavez at the presidential palace. 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, and look how God is on our side, the coincidence that last night you captured him and today we can give this magnificent news," Santos said.
"This is a very good welcome gift," Santos told Chavez.
The Venezuelan leader called the arrest "a happy coincidence".
Both presidents said it was an example of increased cooperation between their authorities. It wasn't immediately clear how authorities tracked down Bonilla.
He will be deported to the United States to face charges, Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said. Chavez had suggested earlier that Bonilla would be handed over to Colombian authorities.
Bonilla was captured in the central state of Aragua, El Aissami said.
US officials allege Bonilla has sent tons of cocaine to the United States through Central America and Mexico, dealing extensively with Mexico's violent Zetas drug cartel.
Bonilla, 39, allegedly headed a Medellin-based criminal organisation 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 organisation called the "Oficina de Envigado," named after the town of Envigado near Medellin.
The US 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 US officials say.