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Colombian drug lord ‘Otoniel’ sentenced to 45 years in prison by US court

By Sofia Cox, Tatiana Arias and Sahar Akbarzai, CNN

(CNN) — Notorious Colombian drug lord Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, also known as “Otoniel,” was sentenced to 45 years in prison Tuesday “for engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise as a leader of the multibillion-dollar paramilitary and drug trafficking organization known as the Clan del Golfo, federal prosecutors announced.

“Otoniel led one of the largest cocaine trafficking organizations in the world, where he directed the exportation of massive amounts of cocaine to the United States and ordered the ruthless execution of Colombian law enforcement, military officials, and civilians,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

The sentence, Garland said, sends a clear message that US officials will “find and hold accountable the leaders of deadly drug trafficking organizations that harm the American people, no matter where they are.”

Úsuga was also sentenced to 45 years for engaging in a maritime narcotics conspiracy and 45 years for engaging in a narcotics importation conspiracy, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said in a news release. The sentences will run concurrently, the release said. As part of his sentence, he will also have to pay $216 million in forfeiture, prosecutors added.

He pleaded guilty to all three charges in January, according to the release.

The Clan del Golfo is a powerful drug cartel that controls cocaine routes into Mexico and the United States. Federal prosecutors Tuesday described the group as “one of the most violent and most powerful criminal organizations in Colombia” and one of the world’s largest cocaine distributors.

“Úsuga David served as a high-ranking leader within the CDG from its inception and was its principal leader for approximately10 years,” prosecutors said in the news release.

“To maintain control over CDG territory, Úsuga David and the CDG employed an army of ‘sicarios,’ or hitmen, who carried out acts of violence, including murders, assaults, kidnappings, torture, and assassinations against competitors and those deemed traitors to the organization, as well as their family members,” the release said.

Úsuga was captured in Colombia in October 2021 – a feat then-Colombian President Iván Duque celebrated as “the biggest arrest of a narco-trafficker by the Colombian police since the days of Pablo Escobar.” He was later extradited to the United States.

Úsuga addressed the court and reiterated he accepts his “responsibility for the crimes committed,” and apologized to the relatives of the victims, their parents, and the US and Colombian governments “for the damage caused.”

“Don’t take the same path that I took. The armed conflict should stay in the past. Weapons should stay in the past,” he said in a message to the Colombian youth on Tuesday.

Duque, the former Colombian president, reacted on X (formerly known as Twitter) Tuesday saying, “‘Otoniel,’ a criminal comparable to drug-trafficker Pablo Escobar, abuser of children and adolescents, murderer of police officers and social leaders, captured during our government, was sentenced to 45 years in prison by a Federal Court of the Eastern District of NY.”

“On the campaign trail, we promised that we would capture this criminal, and we did,” Duque said. “This sentence vindicates part of the pain that this bandit caused in our country. My appreciation always to the Military Forces, the Police and the Prosecutor’s Office who worked in an articulated manner to weaken one of the largest sources of violence in Colombia.”

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