SANTIAGO, Chile – Colombian rebels attempted to traffic drugs through Chile, police said Saturday in describing the seizure of almost a half-ton of cocaine and the arrests of 12 people, including a former Miss Colombia beauty pageant contestant.
Police Gen. Samuel Cabezas said the investigation is still developing "and we are in close consultation with intelligence services in several countries."
It was the first time authorities related a drug seizure in Chile to Colombian guerrillas.
The Colombian capo eluded law enforcement officers, but two Colombians, a Venezuelan and an Israeli were among those arrested, Deputy Interior Minister Felipe Harboe said in a radio interview Saturday.
Nine of those arrested, including the 29-year-old former beauty contestant, appeared Saturday afternoon before a court that ordered the continued detention of eight of them for six months to give time for further investigation. Lyseth Alfaro, who was a contestant in the 2000 Miss Colombia pageant, was released but ordered to remain in Chile.
Alfaro's husband, Oren Cohen, an Israeli, was ordered to remain in custody. Three others were to appear later in court.
Authorities say there are indications traffickers are increasingly trying to use Chile as a route to smuggle drugs to the United States and Europe from Colombia, Bolivia and Peru.
Police Col. Guillermo Valenzuela told the Santiago daily El Mercurio that the leader of the drug trafficking network that was dismantled on Thursday was working on behalf of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which controls a large share of cocaine trafficking in Colombia, the world's main producer of the drug.
Police said 220 pounds of cocaine were discovered in a truck that arrived from Peru, and 694 pounds were found at a laboratory in Linares, 195 miles south of the capital, Santiago. The cocaine was apparently bound for Spain.
Valenzuela, who was not available Saturday for further comment, did not identify the alleged leader of the gang, who police say lives in Panama.
The Miss Colombia pageant has been linked to traffickers in the past — links which organizers say were cut long ago.
In the 1990s, drug lords dated beauty queens and used the Miss Colombia pageant to launder money. Pablo Escobar, the Medellin cartel leader killed by police in 1993, reportedly gave Porsches and luxury apartments to beauty contestants who dated him.
In 1997, one contestant was stripped of her title as runner-up in the Miss Colombia pageant after she was seen visiting a jailed drug capo. Security forces tracked down and arrested two other drug kingpins by tailing their beauty-queen girlfriends.
Thursday's dismantling of the alleged trafficking ring came the same day that Costa Rican authorities arrested suspected FARC member Hector Orlando Martinez Quinto, who is accused of masterminding exchanges of arms for drugs in Central America and of participating in a 2002 rebel attack that killed more than 100 civilians.