Eight held over $100m cocaine haul

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The Independent US

US officials working with Colombian authorities said yesterday that they had arrested eight alleged drug traffickers and seized more than $100m-worth of cocaine.

The arrests followed a four-year investigation that led to the seizure of 2,900kg of cocaine, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said at a Boston press conference. Officials said the smugglers, led by Leyvan Alvarez-Bastidas, paid Philippine merchant seamen to smuggle cocaine into New Orleans.

Alvarez-Bastidas and four other alleged drug traffickers, Hector Javier Castro-Meza, Gustavo Castro-Caicedo, Fidel Alberto Ruales-Vallejo and May Adolfo Morcillo-Molina, who were arrested in Colombia, were brought to Boston on Wednesday night.

Three other suspects, Luis Alberto Zapata-Sanchez, Bernardo Alberto Merino-Cuaran and Alex Castro-Cortes, are in Colombian custody awaiting extradition.

Boston-based agents for the Drug Enforcement Agency and Internal Revenue Service cracked the ring by tracking money allegedly laundered by the suspects. "Normally in these kinds of investigations we typically find the drug and follow the drug trail to the money. Here the opposite happened," Ms Ortiz said.

Colombia is the world's leading producer of cocaine. Over the past two decades Colombian drug gangs have taken a smaller role in transporting cocaine to the United States, leaving the job mostly to larger Mexican drug gangs.