Escobar's widow arrested and may face trafficking charges

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The Independent Online
BUENOS AIRES is abuzz after the unexpected arrests of the widow and son of Pablo Escobar, the late kingpin of the Medellin cocaine cartel.

Arrested late on Monday and charged with entering Argentina on false papers from Chile 18 months ago, Victoria Henao, 39, and Juan Pablo Escobar, 21, were heavily guarded on their way to court on Tuesday. They were expected to make a second court appearance yesterday o hear further charges against them. The pair face sentences of up to 10 years if money- laundering offences are proved.

The surprise arrests came two hours after the broadcast of a television programme on money-laundering that uncovered the whereabouts of the Escobar family, who all vanished four years ago from Colombia, two years after Escobar died in a police shoot-out. The Argentine President, Carlos Menem, announced that by detaining the pair authorities might "better understand how narcotrafficking is operating".

Colombian officials appeared reluctant to extradite and try Ms Henao and her son. Throughout Escobar's tenure as the head of the Medellin cartel, he dodged capture and extradition to the United States with a campaign of terror in which thousands of Colombians died in assassinations and random bombings.

When a powerful car bomb exploded in the capital, Bogota, last week just as President Andres Pastrana signed extradition papers for three drug lords to be tried in the United States, many considered it a warning. Police analysts warned that the bomb, which killed eight people, had all the hallmarks of the Medellin campaign.

Colombia's chief prosecutor, Alfonso Gomez, said no criminal investigations were pending against Mrs Henao or her son, and he confirmed that the false documents were given by the government "to protect their identity". The surviving Escobar family members had been refused asylum in several Latin American countries. In May, one of Escobar's nephews was shot dead in the city of Medellin - which still has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Argentine police have been tracking the Escobar family for months, according to a security minister Miguel Angel Toma, but their hand was forced by the television revelations. "We would have preferred to keep working on this a bit," he said, "but with a possibility of a leak we had to act."

Last week in Bogota, lawyers for the Escobars' 12-year-old daughter, Manuela, won her the legal right to inherit all the real estate her father willed her. Narcotics trade money-laundering is estimated to account for at least $2bn (pounds 1.25bn) in property.