US and Colombia crack drug smuggling ring

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK - US and Colombian authorities have arrested 30 suspected members of one of Colombia's top trafficking rings, a US official said.

The traffickers secreted heroin and cocaine in the soles of sandals, furniture, the lining of golf bags, and used human carriers who swallowed heroin pellets packed in condoms and boarded commercial airlines, the official said.

The arrests "dismantled a drug trafficking organisation that operated from the darkened jungles of Colombia to the bright lights of New York City", US Drug Enforcement Administration special agent John Gilbride told a news conference in New York.

Twenty-one people were arrested in Colombia, including nine suspected leaders of the Jaime Ocampo-Marin operation. US authorities arrested two people in Florida and seven in New York, Gilbride said.

As part of the investigation, anti-drug agents seized more than 113 kg of heroin worth more than US$25 ($40.9) million in raids in the United States and Colombia between mid-2004 and December 2005, Gilbride said.

He described it as "one of the largest amounts of heroin seized in a single drug investigation".

Nine Colombian anti-narcotics police involved in the investigation were killed on May 22, giving authorities an incentive to crack the ring, Gilbride said.

Eight Colombian soldiers have been arrested in connection with the deaths. Colombian investigators say the soldiers were in the pay of right-wing paramilitary militias.


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