Colombian drugs boss arrested in Spain

· Sabogal 'played part' in many murders by gang
· Cartel accounts for up to half of world's cocaine

One of the world's most wanted and violent drugs traffickers, the Colombian Orlando Sabogal Zuluaga, has been arrested in Spain as police around the world try to break up a cartel that accounts for up to half of the global cocaine market.

Sabogal was picked up in the Madrid commuter town of Majadahonda on Thursday as part of a global crackdown on the violent Norte del Valle cartel and its offshoots, which are thought to be responsible for some 1,000 murders.

"Investigators believe that, as a Norte del Valle lieutenant, he has taken part in many of the murders carried out by this organisation," the Spanish police said yesterday.

US authorities claim the cartel has exported more than 500 tonnes of cocaine to the United States since 1990.

"Norte del Valle regularly uses violence and brutality to further its goals, including the murder of rivals, individuals who failed to pay for cocaine and associates who were believed to be working as informants," the US state department said.

Sabogal was one of a group of four Colombians who took over the reins of the country's biggest drug-trafficking outfit after the arrest and deportation to the United States of drug baron Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamante in 2004.

Sabogal, known also as "Alberto" or "The Monkey", and fellow trafficker Johnny Cano Correa had since become leaders of their own sections of the cartel.

"After Gómez Bustamante's arrest, Johnny Cano Correa and Orlando Sabogal Zuluaga rose in the cartel to become leaders of their own drug-trafficking organisations," a US treasury spokesman said.

Cano was arrested and deported to the US in September.

The US state department had offered a $5m reward for information leading to Sabogal's arrest, but refused to say yesterday whether anyone had been given the money.

"Orlando Sabogal Zuluaga ... is responsible for arranging the logistics of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine to the United States and Europe," the state department said when it offered the reward.

Sabogal, who was carrying false identity papers, was arrested at a shopping centre in Majadahonda, 15 miles north-west of Madrid.

Spanish police said they had been asked by their US counterparts to track down Sabogal after they were tipped off that he was in Spain.

US embassy sources in Madrid confirmed yesterday that the arrest had been made on the request of New York public prosecutors.

On the day of his arrest the US treasury department announced that it had frozen Sabogal's assets and those of several family members.

Sabogal and Cano were indicted on drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges by a New York court in July 2003.

The Norte del Valle cartel, based in the Cauca valley and the south-west of the country, has become Colombia's most notorious group.

Colonel Cesar Pinzón, deputy director of Colombia's judicial police, said Sabogal "was the last of the strategic line of leadership of the [Norte del Valle] organisation that had yet to be captured".

"He could be deported to Colombia where he will be processed and then we would begin the process of extraditing him to the United States. But Spain also has an [extradition] agreement with the US," he said.

A Norte del Valle leader called Diego León Montoya remains on the FBI's 10 most wanted list, alongside Osama bin Laden.

The FBI rates the cartel as "the most powerful and violent" trafficking group in Colombia.


Giles Tremlett in Madrid and Sybilla Brodzinsky in Bogota

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