Colombian cocaine ring targeted by UK

Prosecutors have drawn up a hit-list following evidence linking syndicate to the supply of drugs throughout Britain

Britain is to target one of the most notorious Colombian cocaine syndicates by demanding the extradition of its key members to face trial in the UK.
Prosecutors have drawn up a hit-list of targets connected to the powerful Cali cartel following evidence linking them to the supply of drugs throughout Britain. The development follows the first extradition to the UK from Colombia since the countries signed a treaty in 1889.
Colombian national Carlos Arturo Sanchez-Corovado, 43, pleaded guilty at Southwark crown court on Friday to his involvement in Britain's biggest drugs ring, a London-based syndicate with direct links to the Cali cartel, once regarded as the world's dominant cocaine supplier.
Prosecutors said that Sanchez-Corovado acted as "delivery man" for a group that flooded Britain with more than £1bn worth of Class-A drugs over a decade. Although police began rounding up British-based members of the cartel five years ago, Sanchez-Corovado fled to Colombia.
By 2006, 31 members of the ring had been sentenced, leaving just Sanchez-Corovado outstanding. After Colombian authorities had been persuaded to surrender him, Sanchez-Corovado was arrested in Cali last August and extradited several weeks ago. He will be sentenced next month after pleading guilty to money-laundering offences relating to drug trafficking and to possessing false identification.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency confirmed yesterday it had identified a number of other high-profile Colombian cocaine barons they want to bring to justice.
Beverley Parr of Soca said: "The extradition is a really promising development for the future."
Alison Saunders, head of the Crown Prosecution Service's organised crime division, added: "The message for people who come here to commit crime is that there is no hiding place."
Police sources said the deal to extradite a member of the Cali cartel had potentially placed the country's politicians at risk, including vice-president Francisco Santos Calderón who had given his personal backing to the deal. The support represents a marked shift from the 1990s when the cartel's links to the government led to allegations of multi-million dollar bribery.
Sanchez-Corovado's syndicate employed hundreds of people in the UK to launder the vast amounts of cash it generated, and many of them masqueraded as pillars of the expatriate Colombian community.
Court documents indicate that a Colombian cafe on Holloway Road, north London, doubled as a money laundering operation. The ringleaders of the group, Jesus Anibal Ruiz-Henao, 45, and his brother-in-law Mario Tascon, 32, were jailed for 19 and 17 years for conspiracy to supply Class-A drugs and for money laundering offences. They sold drugs on to gangs throughout the UK.
When detectives raided their north-west London homes in 2004, they seized more than £2.5m in cash and cocaine and cannabis valued at £100m. So significant was the ring that the price of cocaine soared by 50 per cent after it was dismantled.


Mark Townsend

The GuardianTramp

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