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Accused Colombian cocaine baron arrested

April 19, 1997

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Another alleged billion-dollar cocaine baron is under lock and key.

Colombian Justo Pastor Perafan, on the run for more than a year, was arrested Thursday as he got into a car at a shopping center in the border town of San Cristobal, National Guard Gen. Gerardo Briceno Garcia told reporters. He was flown Friday to Caracas, and his extradition to Colombia or the United States was pending.

``With this arrest, we can say that all the heavyweights of drug trafficking that existed three years ago have now been brought to justice,″ Colombia’s President Ernesto Samper said in Bogota.

Samper’s government was embarrassed by recent public disclosures that Perafan donated funds to the 1989 senate campaign of Guillermo Alberto Gonzalez. The scandal prompted Gonzalez, Samper’s defense minister, to resign last month.

The 50-year-old Perafan is wanted in Colombia on charges of illegal enrichment and falsifying documents, said a spokeswoman at the chief prosecutor’s office in Bogota.

He also faces drug charges in New York, and Justice Department spokesman John Russell said in Washington that the United States also would seek extradition.

U.S. efforts to prosecute Perafan would be hindered if he returns home, since the Colombian constitution forbids extradition of its citizens.

Authorities arrested Perafan in San Cristobal, 465 miles west of Caracas, acting on a tip from an informant who may be paid the $500,000 reward, Colombia’s national police chief Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano said.

A luxurious home believed to belong to Perafan was raided, Defense Minister Gen. Nicolas Valencia Vivas told reporters. Gen. Briceno said Perafan was difficult to recognize because he apparently had undergone cosmetic surgery to disguise his features.

A positive identification was made through fingerprint analysis.

Handcuffed, Perafan stepped off a military plane at Caracas’ downtown airport Friday afternoon with a National Guard commando at each side. About 100 soldiers backed up by armored vehicles patrolled airport entrances.

``This is most unfair because I’m not a drug trafficker nor have I ever been one,″ Perafan told reporters at San Cristobal police headquarters Friday morning.

``I’m wanted for alleged illegal enrichment and there’s nothing that indicates I’m a drug trafficker.″

Venezuelan military intelligence police were holding Perafan on charges of carrying false identity papers and being in the country illegally.

After a long stint in the army, Perafan, a former sergeant, went into business and made a fortune estimated by Colombian officials at $10 billion.

He claims it came from coffee and other legitimate businesses. But authorities said it was from his connections with the Cali cartel, the world’s biggest supplier of cocaine.

Cali kingpins Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela have been jailed in Colombia since 1995.

As recently as 1994, Perafan was a respected businessman with ties to influential politicians. But in February 1996, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant and he went underground.

``The only thing I’ve done is work honestly,″ Perafan said in comments broadcast by Colombia’s Caracol radio station. ``I come from a humble background.″

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