BOGOTA (Reuters) - The United States announced charges against 17 members of Colombia’s biggest criminal gang, Clan Usuga, on Tuesday for alleged involvement in drug trafficking and other crimes after a joint investigation with Colombian authorities.
Clan Usuga members have been sought by U.S. authorities for some time, and the State Department previously offered $5 million for information leading to the capture of its leader Dairo Antonio Usuga David, or “Otoniel.”
The charges brought by courts in New York and Miami accuse the gang members, including Otoniel, of conspiring to import more than 73 tonnes of cocaine into the United States between 2002 and 2015 and of using hitmen to murder, assault and kidnap.
Most of the 17 are still at large, the United States says.
“Your operatives will continue to be dismantled; they will be captured and your government, our ally in Colombia, will work with us to secure your extradition,” said Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in reference to the gang in an address at Bogota’s presidential palace.
Ferrer traveled to Colombia to announce the charges with Kelly Currie, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
President Juan Manuel Santos said the charges were brought as a result of several years of teamwork with U.S. authorities which he said had boosted the Andean country’s fight against criminal gangs.
“We will continue to act strongly against these criminals who poison our youth, who sow violence, who promote corruption not only in Colombia but across the world,” said Santos, thanking the United States for its assistance.
Colombia’s police estimates the Usuga clan has around 2,000 members.
Criminal gangs like the Usuga clan mushroomed out of Colombia’s botched dismantling of its paramilitary groups which formed in the 1980s to fight the country’s leftist rebel groups. They are heavily involved in drug trafficking and extortion.
The United States is a close ally of Colombia and has spent billions of dollars helping the country, a major cocaine producer, combat groups involved in trafficking drugs including the leftist FARC and ELN rebels it brands as terrorist groups.
Reporting by Peter Murphy and Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Cynthia Osterman