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Alleged Colombian kingpin arrested

Alleged Colombian kingpin arrested

A top leader of Colombia's biggest drug cartel was captured in a luxurious home and alleged to have used legitimate business interests in Brazil to launder money from cocaine shipped to the United States and Europe.
Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, who faces three U.S. federal indictments on drug and racketeering charges, was arrested at dawn Tuesday at a house in a gated community on Sao Paulo's outskirts complete with a gym, sauna, plasma TVs and a huge swimming pool.
Police said Ramirez Abadia arrived at least two years ago from Colombia to allegedly oversee his gang's investments in Brazil - including cattle ranches, industrial property, mansions and hotels - and underwent two plastic surgeries to alter his appearance.
His Norte del Valle cartel emerged as Colombia's most powerful drug gang after the mid-1990s, and the U.S. State Department in September 2004 began offering up to US$5 million for information leading to the arrest of its leaders.
Ramirez Abadia came to Brazil to orchestrate a cartel scheme to launder drug money from as far away as Mexico and Spain, said Fernando Francischini, the federal police agent in charge of the investigation.
"His deal was to stay away from the drugs, so he could be with the money that arrived in Brazil," Francischini said.
U.S. officials said they are seeking the extradition of Ramirez Abadia - nicknamed "Chupeta," or "lollipop" in Colombian Spanish - who is accused of shipping tons of cocaine and ordering the murders of police and informants in the United States and Colombia.
Brazilian judicial officials are analyzing whether Ramirez Abadia should be extradited or face charges in Brazil, Francischini said. He did not say how long that process could take.
Police said they knew of Ramirez Abadia's presence in Brazil for two years, and received a tip a week ago that led to his arrest.
"The news of his arrest is welcome," said Richard Mei, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Brazil. He added that U.S. are deciding who might be eligible for a reward of up to US$5 million for information leading to his capture.