Colombia extradited a paramilitary warlord to the US on Wednesday for trial on drug charges, accusing him of violating a peace pact by selling drugs and commanding illegal militia fighters from prison.
A grim-faced Carlos Mario Jimenez, handcuffed and wearing a black bulletproof vest, was escorted onto a Super King 350 plane in a Bogota airport hangar shortly after midnight — a scene shown in a video released by police.
Authorities said he was flown to Washington via Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Later on Wednesday, officials announced the seizure of 25 homes, 23 vehicles and six businesses belonging to Jimenez that they valued at US$20 million — as well as goods including 26 watches.
The extradition sends a message to other jailed warlords that they, too, could be shipped abroad to face stiffer prison sentences if they revert to crime.
Colombia’s police chief, General Oscar Naranjo, told Caracol radio that authorities have some evidence other militia bosses are continuing to run criminal groups from jail, “but not enough to make judicial decisions.”
The Supreme Court ruled last month that Jimenez should not leave the country until he confessed his crimes and provided reparations to victims.
Colombia’s top judicial panel overturned that decision on Tuesday, and he was hustled out of the country hours later.
The 42-year-old Jimenez, known by the alias “Macaco,” surrendered in December 2006 as part of a peace pact with the government. More than 31,000 paramilitary fighters have demobilized under the 2003 deal, which requires top commanders to confess to crimes in exchange for reduced sentences.
But Jimenez was among the least cooperative of some 50 warlords, and in August he became the first to be stripped of peace deal benefits that include protection from extradition. Now, he is the first to be extradited.
In February, the US Treasury Department listed him as a specially-designated narcotics trafficker, freezing his assets in the US. Washington also accuses him of money laundering and financing terrorist groups.
Many victims of the private militias — which killed thousands of people and stole millions of hectares of land — opposed Jimenez’s extradition, arguing that sending him overseas would hurt efforts to seek compensation for his victims and prosecute his partners in crime.
Attorney Alirio Uribe of the National Victims’ Movement said Jimenez’s absence means the bodies of many victims will never be found.
But Judge Angelino Lizcano, speaking for the seven-judge panel on Tuesday, said prosecutors can still travel to the US seeking information to help victims.
In a statement on Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Washington and Colombia “share the concerns of the victims of paramilitary crimes for discovering the truth and seeking justice and reparations.”
Legal instruments exist in the US to ensure that extradited Colombians continue to provide information to prosecutors in their homeland and that civil remedies could also be pursued, McCormack said.