BELGRADE, Serbia – The most wanted suspected drug lord in the Balkans, charged with smuggling 5.7 tons of cocaine from South America to Europe, was arrested Tuesday after surrendering to Serbian authorities, government officials said.
The officials said Darko Saric was arraigned after agreeing to surrender unconditionally following his location by several national security agencies in an unidentified Latin American country.
"I would like to extend my special thanks to the American intelligence agency CIA," said Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia's deputy prime minister in charge of the country's security bodies.
A police video showed a handcuffed Saric escorted from a government jet that flew to Belgrade from neighboring Montenegro on Tuesday. Serbian officials said that Saric's only condition for surrender was to meet his family and his lawyer in his native Montenegro.
Saric has been on the run since October 2009 when a shipment of 2.7 tons of cocaine that he allegedly organized was disrupted near the Uruguayan Atlantic coast in an international police action that included U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
The Balkan countries are one of the main drug-smuggling transit routes toward western Europe.
Saric, 44, has been charged in Serbia with trafficking some 5.7 tons of cocaine and laundering at least 22 million euros ($30 million,) Serbia's organized crime prosecutor, Miljko Radisavljevic, said Tuesday. Eleven of his alleged gang members are standing trial in Belgrade, while 18 others are on the run.
The Serbian authorities accuse Saric of leading a powerful Balkan criminal organization that was involved in cocaine trafficking from Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay through the Balkan countries to western Europe.
Saric allegedly laundered the money by investing in privatization of state companies, factories and hotels in Serbia and Montenegro. All of his property, including luxurious houses and apartments in Belgrade, has been impounded by Serbian authorities since his disappearance.
AP reporter Jovana Gec contributed.