Police arrest alleged Colombian drug boss in Mexico City

Federal agents have captured an alleged Colombian drug boss in Mexico City, providing new evidence that Colombian cartels are increasingly involved in the Mexican drug trade, investigators said Friday.

Stephan Bartis Marin was detained Thursday night in a lavish house in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood, where authorities seized four cars, US$28,000 (Ђ23,400) in cash and 28 designer watches, said Mexico's top drug prosecutor, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos.

Police also detained another Colombian, three Venezuelans and three Mexicans in houses across the Mexican capital as part of the same operation.

The detainees were part of an international network that smuggled tons of cocaine north into the United States and at least US$18 million (Ђ15 million) a month in cash south to Colombia, Santiago Vasconcelos said.

They supplied drugs to many Mexican criminal gangs, especially the Ciudad Juarez cartel, based across the U.S. border from El Paso, Texas, he said.

The group is allegedly linked to nearly US$5 million (Ђ4 million) in bills that in October were found stuffed into containers of industrial equipment destined for Bogota, Colombia, in one of the biggest cash busts at Mexico City's international airport.

Santiago Vasconcelos said Colombians are now the most powerful players in the drug trade in Mexico, overpowering even long-established local cartels.

"It is the Colombians themselves who really control narcotics trafficking in Mexico, who really own the prime material of cocaine and heroin," he said. "The Mexican criminal organizations, thanks to the Mexican government's offensive, have lost presence and influence."

That claim contradicts recent statements by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Larry Holifield, the DEA's director for Mexico and Central America, told The Associated Press in October that Mexican cartels are now the most powerful in the world.

In 2003, Mexican traffickers supplied 77 percent of the cocaine that entered the United States. By 2004, it had increased to 92 percent, said Anthony Placido, the top DEA intelligence official, addressing a congressional panel in June. The other 8 percent moved through the Caribbean.

Drug-related violence left more than 1,000 people dead last year in Mexico, many in towns and cities on the U.S. border.

Don Semesky, head of the DEA's financial operations, recently told the AP that drug gangs smuggle between US$6 billion (Ђ5 billion) to US$22 billion (Ђ18 billion) in cash into Mexico from the United States, far more than the US$18 million (Ђ15 million) per month allegedly moved by Bartis Marin and his gang.

Santiago Vasconcelos said that the detainees hired people to carry the cash to Bogota on commercial planes sometimes traveling via Venezuela.

In one of the houses raided on Thursday, police found a workshop for making bags with false bottoms to carry cash, he said.

Bartis Marin also owns eight businesses, including one in Spain, which he used to launder drug money, Santiago Vasconcelos said, reports AP.


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