Police Arrest Another Cali Cartel Leader
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Police arrested another leader of the Cali drug cartel Tuesday night while he ate dinner in a Bogota restaurant, a police spokesman said.
Jose Santacruz Londono, 52, alias ``Chepe,″ is believed to be the No. 3 figure in the cartel that supplies 80 percent of the world’s cocaine. The U.S. government says he consolidated the gang’s sales network in New York.
Two leaders of the cartel surrendered to authorities last month. On June 9, police captured Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, considered the cartel’s strategic planner. His brother and fellow druglord Miguel is at large.
Colombia, under U.S. pressure, has raided cartel hideouts in Cali and offered rewards for the capture of drug kingpins. Two people split a $1.76 million reward for information leading to Rodriguez’ arrest, and were relocated abroad.
After years as a fugitive, Santacruz was spotted by a bodyguard for Gen. Jose Serrano, national police chief, who by coincidence had gone to eat in the same Bogota restaurant, said police spokesman Victor Pinzon.
``I guess he didn’t think he would ever get caught,″ Pinzon said. ``He was wrong.″
Santacruz is wanted in Colombia on drug and terrorism charges. He has been indicted several times in the United States, but Colombia does not allow the extradition of its citizens.
Police believe he was in Bogota for about 1 1/2 months, escaping heavy police pressure in Cali, a southwestern city.
Santacruz and three friends were drinking vodka and rum when eight police officers entered and arrested him, said Ernesto Buitrago, owner of the barbecue restaurant. He said the arrest took only a few minutes.
``Santacruz paid the bill before he was taken away, which was nice of him,″ Buitrago told The Associated Press.
Santacruz, a burly man with a moustache, was briefly shown to reporters at national police headquarters. Television footage showed him dressed casually in a denim jacket.
Police, who had offered a $625,000 reward for Santacruz’s arrest, said a fingerprint check confirmed they had caught him.
Last week, authorities announced the arrest of another reputed cartel leader, Phanor Arizabaleta, but later acknowledged they had detained the wrong man.
Santacruz has been linked to the high-profile New York case of the 1992 murder of journalist Manuel de Dios Unanue.
Law-enforcement officials say they believe Santacruz ordered the killing in revenge for de Dios Unanue’s investigative work on drug trafficking. The former editor-in-chief of the Spanish-language paper El Diario-La Prensa, de Dios Unanue was working on his own crime magazine at the time of his death.
Santacruz was involved with Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela and his brother, Miguel, in the late 1960s in a criminal gang accused of kidnapping two Swiss nationals for ransom. They were later released.
Known in those days as ``The Student″ because he was studying engineering, Santacruz Londono went into the construction business and is said to own thousands of apartments in Cali and hundreds of rural properties.
He was indicted June 8 in New York on charges he shipped cocaine to the city and laundered a fortune in drug money between 1987 and 1990.
Officials say the indictment is a blow to his organization because it allows them to freeze more than $30 million he has deposited in European bank accounts.
``This is a man who was wanted by the police forces of many countries in the world and we had the fortune to arrest him,″ said Defense Minister Fernando Botero.
Despite recent successes against the Cali cartel, U.S. officials acknowledge the war against Colombia’s entrenched drug cartels could last decades.
Thomas Constantine, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said recently that South American _ mostly Colombian _ heroin production accounted for 32 percent of heroin seized in the United States in 1994.
Five years ago, nearly all heroin seized came from Asia.