Cartel drug lord held in Colombia

PHIL DAVISON

Latin America Correspondent

Colombian police arrested the leader of the world's biggest cocaine cartel, Miguel Rodriguez Orjejuela, in the city of Cali yesterday, and now have virtually all the Cali cartel's drug lords in jail.

Despite the blow to the cartel, US anti-narcotics agents warned the organisation was so big, run as a sophisticated corporation, that its lieutenants may continue the flow of cocaine to the US and Europe.

Mr Rodriguez, 51, whose brother, Gilberto, was arrested in Cali two months ago, was detained without resistance.

He was no normal fugitive. Arrested with him were his wife, bodyguard, chauffeur and maid.

His detention came as Colombia faced its greatest recent political crisis, sparked by revelations, apparently first leaked by Mr Rodriguez himself, that the Cali cartel had financed Ernesto Samper's successful election campaign last year. President Samper insists any such money, estimated at more than $6m, (pounds 4m) changed hands behind his back.

His former campaign treasurer, Santiago Medina, who was detained last month, told prosecutors Mr Samper knew of the campaign donations.

The Defence Minister, Fernando Botero, who was then Mr Samper's campaign manager, resigned last week after Mr Medina said he had been directly involved in soliciting the funds from the cartel.

Mr Samper has asked a congressional commission to investigate his conduct. But the commission is made up mostly of members of his own Liberal Party, some of whom are also under suspicion of taking cartel bribes.

The Prosecutor-General, Alfonso Valdivieso, who has launched a campaign to unravel the truth, has said he may call in the President for questioning.

While the better-known Medellin cartel boss, Pablo Escobar, waged a war against the authorities from the 1980s until he was shot dead in a police raid in December 1993, the Rodriguez brothers kept a low profile. They built up an empire of ostensibly legitimate businesses to launder their proceeds and provide a respectable "front". Although they usually preferred bribes to violence, US anti-narcotics agents said the brothers ordered the killings of informers and others.

Cashing in on Escobar's demise, the Rodriguez cartel had boosted its business to 80 per cent of the world's cocaine trade this year. Miguel, an avid soccer fan, was widely believed to have been a major shareholder in the Cali first division soccer side, America.

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