by Attorney-General John Ashcroft on indictment of Colombian paramilitaries,
September 24, 2002
the Department of Justice is unsealing an indictment charging leaders of
the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, with trafficking over
17 tons of cocaine into the United States and Europe since 1997. The AUC
is a Colombian paramilitary group listed on the State Department's Foreign
Terrorist Organization List.
The indictment charges
AUC leader Carlos Castaño Gil and two other AUC members with five
counts of drug trafficking. Also named in the indictment are AUC military
commander Salvatore Mancuso and AUC member Juan Carlos Sierra Ramirez.
The United States has requested the extradition of all three of these
defendants from the Republic of Colombia, one of our closest international
law enforcement partners. They face sentences up to life imprisonment
if convicted of all charges.
On September 16,
The Washington Post reported Carlos Castaño as saying he would,
quote, "go and face the U.S. justice system" if he were indicted
by the United States. Today, we call upon Carlos Castaño to stand
by his statement and surrender to United States authorities.
The indictment of
these high-ranking AUC members marks, once again, the convergence of two
of the top priorities of the Department of Justice: the prevention of
terrorism, and the reduction of illegal drug use. These charges follow
the indictment in March of several members of the FARC, a Colombian guerilla
group also listed on the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization
List. Today's indictment charges AUC leaders, not as the anti-FARC freedom
fighters they claim to be, but as criminals - violent drug traffickers
who poison our citizens and threaten our national security.
According to the
indictment, Carlos Castaño directed cocaine production and distribution
activities in AUC-controlled regions of Colombia, including protecting
coca processing laboratories, setting quality and price controls for cocaine,
and arranging for and protecting cocaine shipments both within and outside
of Colombia. Castaño and his co-defendants used violence, force
and intimidation to maintain this authority over cocaine trafficking activities.
For example, the indictment alleges that Castaño resorted to kidnaping
and threats, and that Salvatore Mancuso caused the brutal murder of another
Colombian drug trafficker as retribution for failing to pay a drug debt.
I want to thank DEA
Administrator Asa Hutchinson, Michael Chertoff, head of the criminal division
of the Justice Department, and John Varrone, Assistant Commissioner for
Investigations with the U.S. Customs Service. All of them are here with
me today, and I thank them for their outstanding leadership. Today's indictment
is the culmination of a 2½- year-long investigation conducted by
the Drug Enforcement Administration, working in cooperation with the Narcotic
and Dangerous Drug Section of the Department of Justice.
I want to acknowledge
the United States Customs Service and the United States Coast Guard for
their collaboration. I also want to thank our many foreign law enforcement
partners, including the Carabiñeros de Chile, the Guardia Civil
in Spain, the Judicial Police of Portugal, the Netherlands Coast Guard
and other agencies in Martinique.
The cooperation of
Colombian authorities, in particular, has been invaluable in our efforts
to bring drug traffickers to justice. Since 1997, there have been more
than 50 extraditions of Colombian nationals to the United States. I would
especially like to thank the officers of the Colombian National Police
for their tireless efforts in this investigation. The CNP's daily support
to our agents and prosecutors was critical to our success in this case
and others that target the drug traffickers who menace our hemisphere.
Let me also take a moment to recognize the leadership and commitment of
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to proceed vigorously against drug traffickers
and terrorists wherever they are found.
The men named in
the indictment are accused of selling one of the most dangerous and addictive
drugs: cocaine. Cocaine, including its derivative form crack, remains
the most frequently mentioned drug in 14 of the 20 cities in the Drug
Abuse Warning Network. In addition, cocaine accounted for 50%t of all
drug-related episodes in emergency rooms between 1999 and 2000.
Today, we see more
clearly than ever the interdependence between the terrorists that threaten
American lives and the illegal drugs that threaten American potential.
As today's indictment reminds us, the lawlessness that breeds terrorism
is also a fertile ground for the drug trafficking that supports terrorism.
To surrender to either of these threats is to surrender to both.
The Department of
Justice is committed to victory over drug abuse and terrorism, and the
protection of the freedom and human dignity that both drug abuse and terrorism
seek to destroy.
As of October 2, 2002,
this document was also available online at http://usembassy.state.gov/posts/co1/wwwsauc5.shtml#English
September 24, 2002