Drug lord 'Otoniel': 'most dangerous trafficker' pleads not guilty to US charges

The leader of Colombia's Clan del Golfo criminal group was detained in New York, pending trial

A picture of Colombian drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, aka Otoniel, is displayed at a press conference in New York on May 5. AFP
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Dairo Antonio Usuga, better known as drug kingpin Otoniel, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to US drug trafficking charges.

The 50-year-old leader of Colombia's Clan del Golfo criminal group was detained in New York pending trial, a day after being extradited from Bogota.

Usuga shipped “outrageous quantities of cocaine into the United States” while leading the group from 2003 until October, when he was captured by Colombian armed forces, Reuters reported US Attorney Breon Peace as saying in New York.

At a press conference in Brooklyn, Mr Peace described Otoniel as “one of the most dangerous, most wanted drug kingpins in the world”.

Usuga orchestrated more than 40 cocaine shipments larger than one tonne to the US, Mr Peace said, while Colombia holds Otoniel responsible for the deaths of hundreds of members of the country's security forces.

Usuga has been charged with criminal enterprise and international cocaine manufacturing and distribution, and faces life in prison, if convicted.

Usuga pleaded not guilty through his lawyer to two charges of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiring to manufacture and distribute cocaine.

Usuga wore an orange jumpsuit while attending the hearing.

Colombian President Ivan Duque on Wednesday compared Usuga to the late trafficker Pablo Escobar, and said his extradition “shows nobody is above the Colombian state”.

Extradition to the US, Bogota's top ally, is among Colombia's main weapons for fighting drug trafficking.

In an apparent response to the extradition, the Clan del Golfo said it would enforce a curfew in parts of Colombia's northern Magdalena and Bolivar provinces, warning residents not to open businesses or leave their homes.

Updated: May 06, 2022, 4:53 AM