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Colombia cartel smuggled cocaine on airline -US

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Apr 5 (Reuters) A Colombian drug cartel recruited Colombian airline employees and police in an unsuccessful attempt to smuggle more than 10 million dollars worth of cocaine into the United States, US federal authorities said.

An employee of Avianca Airlines, former Colombian police officers belonging to the Norte Valle Cartel and current police officers were among seven people arrested on Monday in Bogota.

In addition, about 10 million dollars worth of cocaine was seized in a Bogota warehouse used by the cartel, the US Drug Enforcement Administration said in a statement yesterday.

The jailed suspects face narcotics charges for smuggling cocaine through El Dorado International Airport in a failed bid to import the drug to the United States, according to an indictment unsealed yesterday in Manhattan federal court.

The suspects, including a former national police major and a former police lieutenant and captain belonging to the cartel, are being held in Colombia and face extradition to the United States, the DEA said.

If convicted, the accused face a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a forfeiture of 10 million dollars.

In October an Avianca employee, four cartel members and two police officers stationed at El Dorado helped smuggle cocaine through Avianca's cargo facility and onto a commercial flight to Mexico City, where it was seized by Mexican authorities, the DEA said.

The drug cartel bribed airline employees and police officers to sign cargo receipt forms and move 10 boxes of cocaine weighing 409 kg through security knowing it was destined for the United States, the indictment said.

Avianca, Colombia's biggest airline, operates daily flights from El Dorado to Mexico and the United States.

In October 2005, authorities extradited the former head of the anti-drug unit at El Dorado on heroin smuggling charges from Colombia to United States.

Reuters SHR AD VP0204

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