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Homeland Security

29 July 2003

Four Argentine Heroin Traffickers Extradited to United States

DEA hails "unprecedented" extradition under U.S.-Argentina treaty

Washington -- Four Argentine drug traffickers have been extradited to the United States after being charged with being part of a network that sent multi-kilogram amounts of heroin to New York and Atlanta, Georgia, via Argentina and Colombia.

In a July 29 statement, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said the extradition is "unprecedented for any Latin American nation in that it provides for the temporary surrender of the defendants for prosecution in the United States while narcotics charges remain pending against them in Argentina."

The DEA also said it was the first extradition of Argentine nationals under a U.S.-Argentine extradition treaty that entered into force in 2000.

The defendants are charged with operating the Buenos Aires cell of a drug-shipping network that sent the heroin from Colombia to Argentina so that Argentine couriers on commercial flights from Buenos Aires to New York could transport the narcotics. If convicted of the charges, each defendant faces up to a life term of imprisonment and a $4 million fine, the DEA said.

The couriers carried the heroin, sewn in the lining of clothing in their luggage, to New York and Atlanta. The couriers arriving in Atlanta took passenger trains to New York to deliver the drugs there. The DEA said the drug organization arranged at least a dozen courier trips to the United States between August 1999 and May 2002. Each courier carried between four and 12 kilograms of heroin.

The DEA said the extradition marks the "final chapter in the successful dismantling of a well-organized heroin-smuggling network." As part of the investigation, which also included law enforcement agencies from Colombia, Ecuador, and Argentina, more than forty kilograms of heroin, with a street value in the millions of dollars, were seized, and 17 individuals arrested. In December 2001, the ring-leader of this organization, Gabriel Antonio Pelaez-Marin, was extradited from Colombia to New York. Following his guilty plea, Pelaez-Marin was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

In November 2002, the Supreme Court of Argentina reversed the decision of a lower court and held that the criminal offense of heroin importation into the United States and the Argentine offense of narcotics trafficking constituted two separate crimes, and therefore under the Argentine constitution was not "double jeopardy," meaning the two prosecutions could both continue.

A DEA official said his agency wished to "acknowledge and thank our partners in Argentina. Their commitment and cooperation in this and in many other matters relating to international drug control are critical to our efforts to protect the public from the negative consequences of drug abuse."

The U.S. State Department said in its "Narcotics Control Strategy Report" for 2002 that within the last several years, Argentina has become a transit area for Colombian heroin en route to the U.S. east coast (primarily New York), "although there is no evidence that the quantities involved significantly affect the United States."

Meanwhile, the DEA also announced that its Bogota country office had recently launched "Operation Fuente," a heroin intelligence collection effort in Colombia that uses newspaper ads, leaflets, posters, billboards, metro ads, and television commercials to advertise a toll-free heroin information hotline. Callers can receive reward money for information about heroin organizations, stash sites, and laboratories if the information leads to arrests or seizures.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

This page printed from: http://usinfo.state.gov/xarchives/display.html?p=washfile-english&y=2003&m=July&x=20030729170659neerge0.4982416&t=usinfo/wf-latest.html

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