Published October 31, 2012
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Colombia's most-wanted reputed drug trafficker was arrested outside a restaurant in suburban Buenos Aires after Colombian police spent months chasing him around South America.
Carrying false passports from five countries and posing as a Venezuelan businessman, Henry de Jesus Lopez, aka "Mi Sangre," or "My Blood," was finally captured Tuesday night. He is accused of shipping tons of cocaine to the United States through Central America.
Lopez and a bodyguard were arrested without a shot fired in the parking lot of "Fettuccine Mario," where he was expected to arrive for dinner in the Buenos Aires suburb of Pilar, police said Wednesday.
Lopez, 41, ran the "Urabenos" gang based northern Colombia after rising through the ranks of right-wing paramilitary groups that doubled as drug trafficking operations, national police director Gen. Jose Roberto Leon said in Bogota.
The group takes its name from the Gulf of Uraba on Colombia's Caribbean coast, from which U.S. law enforcement officials say it shipped tons of cocaine northward.
Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni called Lopez "extremely dangerous" and said he has been responsible for "hundreds of deaths."
Colombian traffickers are increasingly being arrested farther from home — in Venezuela, in Bolivia and now in Argentina — as Colombian authorities and dozens of DEA agents have systematically captured the country's kingpins and begun working their way down the chains of command of the remaining organized crime rings.
"Colombia now effectively has no more "capos" of regional or national reach," said Oscar Naranjo, who retired as Colombia's national police director in July.
"He was one of the few left in Central and South America at that level," a U.S. law enforcement official said. "Now you have the second tier."
The official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said Lopez was accused in a U.S. criminal complaint of shipping "multi-ton loads" of cocaine to the United States.
Lopez entered Argentina with his wife and child late last year, settling them into a house in the gated community of Nordelta, where many wealthy Argentines and foreigners have waterfront homes.
But Berni said he left his family there and moved constantly, jumping from property to property north of the capital, living under assumed names and protected by as many as eight bodyguards. Lopez carried false passports from Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela, and recently traveled through Paraguay and Venezuela in hopes of throwing pursuers off his trail, Leon said.
In the end, a team of Colombian judicial police installed in Argentina caught him with help from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and a small group of Argentine officials. Key to the arrest was a Colombian informant who reported his location and movements. The informant, whose identity is being protected, will be paid a reward worth $660,000, Leon said.
Berni emphasized the Argentine role, attributing the arrest to "a very thorough investigation" by his agency and federal forces. He said President Cristina Fernandez had personally approved the necessary resources.
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos sent a Twitter message overnight thanking his country's police and Argentine authorities for the arrest.
Without offering any details, Berni also said that Lopez trafficked drugs in Argentina during his stay, and that investigations continue.
Lopez is accused of organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorism, and is wanted in Colombia as well as Miami. Authorities are now evaluating which country Argentina should send him to, Gen. Leon said.
He could be expelled by Argentina to Colombia, which would in turn extradite him to the United States, whose prisons house scores of Colombian drug traffickers.
Associated Press Writers Cesar Garcia and Vivian Sequera in Bogota, Frank Bajak in Lima and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.