Cocaine clan | 

Otoniel's Colombian Clan del Golfo cartel exported at least 20 tons of coke monthly

In the last six years, authorities have seized 450 tons of Clan del Golfo cocaine and arrested 31 leaders who now face extradition to the United States

Otoniel was taken down in a joint operation and now faces extradition to the US

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

The Colombian cartel led by the recently arrested Dairo Antonio Úsuga, otherwise known as Otoniel, exported cocaine to as many as different 28 countries, police have revealed.

In the aftermath of his capture new details have emerged about the Clan del Golfo cartel, which is the largest criminal organisation in the country.

The President of Colombia, Iván Duque, described the dramatic take down of Otoniel in a joint army, air force and police operation as “comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s”.

Although not as well-known outside of Colombia as Escobar was, Otoniel, who now faces extradition to the United States, is a household name and had been hugely powerful, especially in the north west of the country.

On Wednesday, the director of the National Police, General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, staged a press conference after nearly 6,000 kilograms of cocaine was seized within a week, which was described as an unusually large amount, even for Colombia.

General Valencia said most coke trafficking in the country was controlled by the Clan del Golfo who did business with major criminal organisations across the globe.

Some of these included gangs in the former Yugoslavia, the Cosa Nostra from Sicily, the 'Ndrangheta from Calabria, and the Mexican cartels of Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generación.

“Otoniel's Colombians supplied the Italian groups with cocaine that was sold in China and the Middle East,” it was reported.

“Cocaine also went from the Clan to Australia. In all those countries the wholesale price is at least three to four times higher than in Rotterdam, which amounts to almost 100,000 euros per kilo. "

According to the police chief, the group had been exporting at least 20 tons of cocaine every month, which is an estimated to be almost one third of the total combined amount of cocaine that leaves the country every year.

Dairo Antonio Usuga David, alias "Otoniel", top leader of the Gulf clan, poses for a photo while escorted by Colombian military soldiers inside a helicopter after being captured, in Turbo, Colombia.

Otoniel's gang operated several networks, with each taking care of part of line of distribution.

With each network consisting of an average of 25 criminals, it is estimated that the clan could call upon a total of 1,500 to 3,000 members across Colombia.

According to the police, the Clan del Golfo buys coca leaves in 12 per cent of the coca plants grown in the departments of Antioquia, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Bolívar and Córdoba.

They also operate from both Honduras and Costa Rica which act as intermediate stations on routes to the United States and Europe respectively. In Europe, the main access points are the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam.

According to police intelligence, they ran complete shipping companies to transport containers or cargo of drugs and used about different 200 stamps to identify various blocks of cocaine.

These included logos of well-known clothing brands and other products. Otoniel’s favourite stamp featured the logo of Teka, a German manufacturer of kitchen furnishings.

In the last six years, authorities have seized 450 tons of Clan del Golfo cocaine and arrested 31 leaders who now face extradition to the United States.

Although police expect Otoniel's gang to disintegrate since his arrest, they are aware of four other groups already active along Colombia's northwest and Caribbean coasts.

Otoniel was captured in his rural hideout in Antioquia province in north-western Colombia, close to the border with Panama, in an operation involving 500 soldiers supported by 22 helicopters.

Although he was fearful of capture and had used a network of rural safe houses to move around to evade the authorities, he had a $5m bounty on his head from the US government.

His movements were traced by more than 50 signal intelligence experts using satellite imagery while US and UK agencies were involved in the search.

He is accused of drug trafficking and sending dozens of shipments of cocaine to the United States that amounted to 73 metric tons between 2003-2014.

He has also been behind the killing police officers, with the Defense Ministry pointing the finger at him for the deaths of more than 200 members of the Andean country’s security forces.

He has also been accused of recruiting and sexually abusing children and turned to witchcraft as part of his darker side.

He was described as a “superstitious man” who during his years commanding the criminal group went to witches and fortune-tellers to be prayed for.

In an interview with a local radio station, the director of the National Police pointed out that within the Clan del Golfo, “these leaders and lieutenants of Otoniel resorted to witchcraft, to Santeria. Between that many myths and legends are woven”.

“He (Otoniel) performed rites. All these people performed rituals. A crazy thing, nonsense,” General Valencia told the station.

General Valencia pointed out that in the rural areas of Urabá and Chocó there are many supernatural beliefs.

“We have found witchcraft very widespread, everyone uses it. They all call a number of fortune-tellers and prayers. Otoniel also used this practice”.

General Valencia revealed that everything was conducted through letters: “Otoniel was doing it from a distance (witchcraft). That is, they sent him letters, they told him to do this rite.

“Things like ‘get up on that side of the bed, when you go to lie down in the hammock you first have to spray it with these waters'.

"Things of that nature he did. Similarly, animal sacrifice; we know that a couple of years ago he was doing this," said the director.

It is now likely that he will be extradited within a month to face charges in the United States, Colombia’s defense minister said last week.

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