Colombian police have arrested four drug-trafficking suspects who are believed to have ties to Mexico’s violent Los Zetas cartel and are wanted for extradition by the United States, officials said Saturday.
The suspects allegedly made up a ring that specialized in smuggling cocaine by sea to Central America, North America and Europe.
The National Police’s anti-narcotics unit said in a statement that the gang was dismantled as part of an 18-month operation that netted its alleged leader, Jorge Mario Patiño Puerta, and three of his accomplices: Roberto Mariano Mejia Perez, Jose Mauricio Moreno Cruz and John Jairo Sanchez Saldarriaga.
Patiño allegedly was in charge of the ring’s finances and general coordination and served as a liaison with the Los Zetas cartel, considered Mexico’s most violent criminal organization.
The Mexican cartel received the drugs at ports in Guatemala or Mexico and then took over the task of moving them across the border to the United States, the world’s largest market for illegal drugs.
The Colombian gang also sent shipments to Belgium and the Netherlands via Caribbean or Pacific ports.
Some 8.48 tons of cocaine were seized during the different phases of Operation Alliance 19 both in Colombian ports such as Buenaventura and Cartagena and in Mexico, where 1.68 tons of cocaine were confiscated at the Gulf port of Veracruz in April 2010.
Authorities also seized a total of 1 billion pesos ($560,742) from the suspects, who are wanted for extradition by a court in New York.
The operation was the second in less than a week in which Colombian authorities arrested a suspect with alleged ties to Mexican drug traffickers.
Four days ago, police captured a woman, Dolly Cifuentes Villa, in the northwestern city of Medellin who allegedly laundered money for Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel.
The Sinaloa and Zetas mobs are two of Mexico’s most powerful drug gangs.
Guzman is considered Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive and has been listed by Forbes magazine as one of the world’s wealthiest individuals.
The Zetas are a gang of Mexican special forces deserters turned outlaws who are notorious for brutally murdering their rivals and massacring dozens of undocumented immigrants who apparently refused to work for the gang as enforcers or couriers.