Perez Henao, 42, who goes by the alias Diego Rastrojo, was
extradited from Colombia in August 2013, and is due to be sentenced
on June 5 when he could face up to life in prison.
At a plea hearing held before U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz on
Friday, Perez Henao admitted to shipping 180,000 pounds of cocaine
starting in 1994, using various transportation methods including
airplanes and semi-submersibles, to Mexican cartels supplying the
U.S. market, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney's office
"Diego Perez Henao was the kingpin of a prolific drug cartel," said
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer. "The conviction of Perez Henao
concludes one of the most significant chapters in the history of the
Colombian drug trade," he added.
One of the heads of the Rastrojos criminal gang, Henao was captured
in Venezuela in June 2012, then deported to Colombia. A $5 million
bounty was offered for his capture.
Colombia's five main criminal gangs, which have around 3,800
members, were mostly formed after the disbanding of right-wing
paramilitary groups in 2006.
Many of the paramilitary units morphed into criminal gangs supplying
cocaine to cartels in Mexico and the United States, making the
arrest of their leaders a top priority for Washington in its battle
against drug trafficking.
Colombia is one of the world's top cocaine producers, making about
300 tons a year even after U.S.-backed efforts to stamp out the
illegal trade. The country's leftist guerrillas, the FARC and the
smaller ELN group, levy taxes on local production of coca but deny
involvement in trafficking the drug.
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The coca leaf is the raw material used to make cocaine.
The government has been in peace negotiations with the FARC, or
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, since last November. Both
the FARC and ELN, or National Liberation Army, are considered
terrorist organizations by the United States and European Union.
(Reporting by David Adams; editing by Ken Wills)
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