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Dairo Antonio Usuga, center, also known as "Otoniel," leader of the violent Clan del Golfo cartel prior to his extradition to the U.S., at a military airport in Bogota, Colombia, yesterday. AP/PA Images

Colombian drug lord 'Otoniel' pleads not guilty in US court

Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as “Otoniel,” did not ask for bail during the arraignment hearing in New York.

ONE OF COLOMBIA’S most notorious drug lords pleaded not guilty to cocaine trafficking charges in a New York court following his extradition to the United States.

Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as “Otoniel,” did not ask for bail during the arraignment hearing in Brooklyn.

The 50-year-old was the leader of Colombia’s largest narco-trafficking gang, known as the Gulf Clan.

The United States accuses Usuga and the Gulf Clan of illegally bringing at least 73 tons of cocaine into the country between 2003 and 2012.

He was “one of the most dangerous, most wanted drug kingpins in the world,” Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York told reporters Thursday.

Peace described Usuga as the “supreme leader” of the Gulf Clan.

“He is responsible for trafficking vast amounts of cocaine, measured in tons. He earned enormous profits measured in billions, not millions,” the prosecutor told a press conference.

Usuga was the most wanted person in Colombia until he was arrested last October in the northwest of the country after a massive military operation.

On Wednesday afternoon, a convoy of five bulletproof police vehicles transported him from a prison in the capital Bogota to a military airport, where he was handed over to US Drug Enforcement Administration officials.

Usuga landed in New York around 11:30 pm (0330 GMT Thursday).

He wore orange prison garb and was handcuffed during his first appearance in the Brooklyn federal court.

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

He asked to be held in detention until his trial, and judge Vera Scanlon set a date of June 2 for the defendant’s next court appearance.

Usuga’s arrest was one of the biggest blows to Colombia’s drug trafficking business since the assassination of Pablo Escobar in 1993.

He was captured near the border with Panama following a military operation involving 500 soldiers backed by 22 helicopters, in which one police officer was killed.

Usuga was indicted in 2009 in the United States, which had offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to his arrest.

‘El Chapo’

The Gulf Clan was believed to be responsible for 30 percent of cocaine exports from Colombia, the world’s largest producer and supplier of the drug.

New York prosecutors have secured the extradition and conviction of several traffickers in recent years, most notably Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

He was sentenced to life in prison in July 2019 and is being held in a maximum-security prison in Colorado.

Last month, Ex-Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez appeared in court in New York following his extradition to America to face drug trafficking charges.

Hernandez is accused of aiding the smuggling of hundreds of tons of cocaine to America in return for millions of dollars in bribes from drug-traffickers.

His brother, ex-congressman Tony Hernandez, was given a life sentence in the United States in March 2021 for drug trafficking crimes.

© AFP 2022