COLOMBIAN TERRORISTS ARRESTED IN COCAINE-FOR-WEAPONS DEAL
(WASHINGTON D.C.) Attorney General John Ashcroft, DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Michael Shelby announced today the arrest of two commandants of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) or United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a paramilitary organization designated by the United States Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist group, and associates in Houston, for their involvement in a multi-million dollar cocaine-for-arms deal.
The investigation "Operation White Terror" was initiated on September 19, 2001. Only a week after the catastrophic events of September 11, the AUC aggressively pursued their terrorist activities by attempting the acquisition of a cache of paramilitary weapons priced at 25 million dollars.
The AUC operates in most regions of Colombia and is principally funded by drug trafficking. The organization is estimated to have more than 8,000 paramilitary fighters with operations that vary from multi-ton cocaine distributions to the U.S. and Europe, to assassinations and involvement in guerrilla combat units. According to the Colombian National Police (CNP) the AUC has conducted 804 assassinations, 203 kidnappings, and 75 massacres with 507 victims, and is considered by international human rights groups and the U.S. Department of State to be responsible for 70% of the human rights violations in Colombia.
This investigation spanned over 14 months with meetings between undercover officers and operatives of the AUC. These meetings occurred all over the world including Houston, Panama, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and London, England, with the final rendezvous in Costa Rica. Communications between the undercover officers and the defendants in this case included e-mails detailing their negotiations and instructions.
Uwe JENSEN, 66, and his boss, Carlos Ali ROMERO-Varela, 43, both of Houston, and Elkin ARROYAVE-Ruiz, a.k.a. Commandant Napo and an individual identified as Edgar Fernando BLANCO-Puerta, a.k.a. Commandant Emilio, both high ranking members with the AUC were arrested based on a sealed criminal complaint filed in Houston, TX, on November 1, 2002, which was unsealed November 5, 2002. All four defendants are criminally charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.
ROMERO, Commandant Napo and Commandant Emilio were arrested November 5, 2002, in San Jose, Costa Rica, after attending a meeting to consummate the cocaine for arms deal. Subsequent to the arrests in Costa Rica, Uwe JENSEN was arrested in Houston and will appear in federal court November 6, 2002, for his initial appearance. The United States will seek his detention in federal custody pending indictment and criminal trial in the case. Other defendants detained in Costa Rica were arrested without incident pursuant to provisional warrants of arrest and are pending extradition to the United States.
If convicted, all defendants face a mandatory minimum punishment of ten years imprisonment up to a maximum of life imprisonment and a fine up to $4 million on the cocaine conspiracy charge. Additionally, the four defendants face up to fifteen years imprisonment and a fine up to $250,000 on the conspiracy to provide material support charge.
This matter is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation conducted by the Houston offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart Burns and Jeffery Vaden in the Southern District of Texas.
A complaint is an accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.