Venezuela turns over alleged drug lord to US

December 15, 2011 - 10:51 AM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela handed a top Colombian drug trafficking suspect to U.S. authorities on Thursday, deporting him to face charges of shipping tons of cocaine to the United States.

The U.S. had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, known as "Valenciano," who was also on Colombia's most-wanted list. Bonilla was captured in Venezuela last month.

He was turned over to U.S. authorities at Caracas' international airport. U.S. counter-drug officials, their faces covered with masks, led the handcuffed Bonilla aboard a plane.

The U.S. State Department had listed Bonilla among its eight most-wanted Colombian drug traffickers after leftist rebels. U.S. officials say Bonilla sent tons of cocaine to the United States through Central America and Mexico, dealing extensively with Mexico's Zetas drug cartel.

Venezuela also deported a second Colombian suspect, Gildardo Garcia Cardona, to Colombia on Thursday. Garcia, an alleged member of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was captured in Venezuela in October.

Garcia is charged with drug trafficking, and Colombian officials had issued an order for his arrest through Interpol, Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said.

When Bonilla was captured the central city of Maracay, both Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called it an example of improved counter-drug cooperation.

Santos said Colombian authorities had provided intelligence to Venezuelan authorities, who tracked down Bonilla.

Bonilla, 39, allegedly headed a Medellin-based criminal organization dating back to the 1980s that once recruited hit men for the late cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Wanted on a 2008 federal indictment from New York's eastern district for drug trafficking, Bonilla received cocaine from various sources in Colombia, including the country's rebels, Colombian and U.S. officials say.