Colombian drug lord ‘Otoniel’ pleads not guilty in US court

One of Colombia’s most famous drug lords, Dairo Antonio Usuga, pleaded not guilty to cocaine smuggling charges in a New York court on Thursday following his extradition to the United States.

Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as “Otoniel”, did not ask for bail during the trial hearing in Brooklyn.

The 50-year-old was the head of Colombia’s largest drug trafficking gang, known as the Gulf Clan.

The United States accuses Usuga and the Gulf Clan of illegally smuggling at least 73 tons of cocaine into the country between 2003 and 2012.

He was “one of the most dangerous and wanted drug bosses in the world,” Breon Peace, US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, told reporters.

Peace described Usuga as the “supreme leader” of the Gulf Clan.

“It is responsible for trafficking large quantities of cocaine, measured in tons. He has made huge profits measured in billions, not millions, “the prosecutor told a news conference.

Usuga was the most wanted person in Colombia until he was arrested last October in the country’s northwest after a massive military operation.

On Wednesday afternoon, a convoy of five bulletproof police vehicles transported him from a prison in the capital Bogota to a military airport, where he was handed over to US Drug Enforcement Administration officials.

Usuga landed in New York around 11:30 pm (Thursday 3:30 am GMT).

He wore orange prison clothes and was handcuffed during his first appearance in Brooklyn federal court.

Usuga has been accused of criminal enterprise and international production and distribution of cocaine and faces life imprisonment if convicted.

He asked to be held in detention until his trial and Judge Vera Scanlon has set a date for June 2 for the defendant’s next court appearance.

Usuga’s arrest was one of the hardest blows to Colombia’s drug trafficking since the assassination of Pablo Escobar in 1993.

He was captured near the border with Panama following a military operation involving 500 soldiers supported by 22 helicopters, in which a police officer was killed.

Usuga was indicated in 2009 in the United States that they had offered a $ 5 million bounty for information leading to his arrest.

‘El Chapo’

The Gulf Clan was believed to be responsible for 30% of cocaine exports from Colombia, the world’s largest drug producer and supplier.

New York prosecutors have secured the extradition and sentencing of several traffickers in recent years, most notably Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

He was sentenced to life in prison in July 2019 and is being held in a maximum security prison in Colorado.

Last month, former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez appeared in court in New York following his extradition to America to be charged with drug trafficking.

Hernandez is accused of helping smuggle hundreds of tons of cocaine into America in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes from drug traffickers.

His brother, former Congressman Tony Hernandez, was sentenced to life in prison in the United States in March 2021 for drug trafficking offenses.