Venezuela deports suspected smugglers
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela deported alleged major drug traffickers to the U.S. and France on Tuesday, the country's top security official said.
Suspected Colombian drug kingpin Salomon Camacho Mora, French smuggling suspect Jean Marie Bonnamy and alleged Colombian paramilitary member Oscar Ospino were escorted to helicopters at Venezuela's secret police headquarters and ferried to the nation's main airport for deportation.
Camacho Mora was sent to the United States, Ospino to Colombia and Bonnamy to France.
Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami hailed the deportations as evidence that President Hugo Chavez's administration is effectively fighting drug trafficking, rejecting criticism from U.S. officials that Venezuela has failed to stem the flow of cocaine through its territory.
"It demonstrates the efficiency and firm commitment of our government and its institutions in the battle against crime," El Aissami said.
Venezuela is a major hub for traffickers smuggling Colombian cocaine to the United States and Europe.
Camacho Mora, alias "Big Papa," is believed to be responsible along with an associate for sending as much as 10 tons (9 metric tons) of Colombian cocaine to the U.S. between 1999 and 2000 alone, according to the U.S. State Department. Authorities in the U.S. had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.
Bonnamy, 51, was wanted in France for allegedly smuggling multi-ton shipments of cocaine to Europe. Venezuelan police arrested him on Nov. 24, a day before French authorities seized a 2,123-pound (963-kilogram) cocaine shipment off the Caribbean island of Saint Martin.
Ospino was accused of being a member of the outlawed United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which was formed in the 1980s to defend wealthy ranchers from leftist guerrillas. The vigilante force quickly turned into one of Colombia's biggest drug-trafficking organizations, however, and its leaders have been accused of ordering hundreds of killings.
Ospino has been convicted of killing a judge in 2003, and prosecutor Deicy Jaramillo said he may be responsible for more than 1,000 killings.
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