Source: Dail Mail
Date: 11 September 2007

The Coke-Father: How justice finally caught up with one of the world's most wanted drugs baron

By ANDREW MALONE

Even by the bloodsoaked standards of Colombia's ruthless drug barons, "Don" Diego Montoya stood out as a man who would stop at nothing to get his own way.

Also known as Senor de la Guerra - 'Mr War' - he once ordered the execution of 35 members of a rival crime family, including pregnant women and young children, gunning them down at a summer picnic before arranging their bodies in a pyramid and setting them ablaze.

But the reign of Colombia's socalled "boss of bosses" - responsible for half of all cocaine smuggling, and the world's second most wanted criminal after Osama Bin Laden - came to an undignified end last night after he was captured at a remote farmhouse wearing only his underpants.

Jubilant U.S. and Colombian officials announced that Montoya, the gruff, 17- stone head of the country's Norte Valley Cartel, had surrendered after being cornered by U.S.-backed special forces at his mountain hide-out in the west of the Central American country.

After a secret surveillance operation on the farm for the past two months, using techniques pioneered by Britain's SAS, commandos launched the raid just before dawn and seized Montoya along with an uncle and three other cartel members.

Manuel Santos, the Colombian defence minister, told a news conference in the Colombian capital, Bogota, that Montoya was responsible for 1,500 "confirmed" killings - many other bodies have never been found - during his 14-year career as boss of the country's most violent gang.

"Drug traffickers take note: This is the future that awaits you," said Mr Santos, as Montoya limped out of an air force plane wearing plastic handcuffs and escorted by five commandos.

Hailed as the biggest breakthrough in the war against drugs since the 1993 slaying of Pablo Escobar, boss of Colombia's Medellin cartel, Montoya's reign ended after he was cornered at his gang's stronghold in the Valle del Cauca state on the country's Pacific coast.

He now faces extradition to the U.S., where President Bush had placed a $5m "dead- or-alive" bounty on Montoya's head.

The arrest came just 48 hours after astonishing details emerged about how his gang cracked secret U.S. Naval codes to ensure submarines carrying his cocaine would not be seized.

Montoya - also known as El Ciclista on account of his penchant for riding a bike round his heavily-armed jungle fortress - paid high-ranking military officials for details of the movements of U.S. naval vessels in the Caribbean, the main smuggling route for cocaine destined for the U.S. and Europe.

It was revealed he had also obtained the positions of British, Dutch and Canadian warships, deployed throughout the region in the global battle against drugs, after one of his henchmen was arrested on a boat off Cartagena and investigators found navigation charts giving the exact location of the vessels.

With his arrest yesterday, Montoya's elaborate network of spies and informants, ranging from generals in the Colombian military to high-ranking politicians, now face the rest of their lives behind bars.

But it is Montoya, to be tried on drugs and murder charges in New York, who is the real prize.

After the notorious Medellin and Cali cartels were smashed in the 1980s and early 1990s, Montoya and his men ruthlessly filled the void to become the world's most powerful drug ring.

With drug profits estimated at 5bn, Montoya's gang had been pursued ruthlessly in recent months after the U.S. offered Colombia billions of dollars in "narco-aid" to stop the streets of America and Europe from continuing to be flooded with drugs.

Notorious for his unpredictable temper and innate, rat-like cunning, it was Montoya's enthusiasm for indiscriminate killing that caused him to be so feared among other drug barons and government officials alike, as well as Colombia's poorest farmers.

Born to poor parents in Trujillo, a town near Colombia's Pacific coast, Montoya started life as a rancher, working for little more than bed and board, herding cattle and tending fences.

Already a well-known character in local bars for his willingness to fight at the slightest provocation, the young Montoya watched as other boys he grew up with in the 1960s turned to a rich new harvest: refining and then smuggling cocaine.

He became a small-time dealer, taking note as Pablo Escobar and his henchmen achieved worldwide notoriety by flaunting the billions they were making from drugs.

As television documentaries and Hollywood movies were based on Escobar's lifestyle, Montoya bided his time.

He also built up a loyal following in the Norte del Valle cartel near his home, paying friends and members of his family, including three brothers, to join his relatively small-scale operation.

Then, in 1991, the big drug cartels collapsed with the arrest of Escobar, who by now was judged by Forbes magazine to be the seventh-richest man in the world - his grip on the world cocaine market was earning him $30 billion a year.

Fearing extradition to the U.S., Escobar escaped from prison, which he had turned into a luxurious set of suites through bribes to guards.

Finally, after cornering him in a slum in the city of Medellin, the authorities riddled his body with bullets; there was also a single bullet hole behind his ear, suggesting a gunman had walked up to him and shot him in the head to make sure.

Soon, a wave of tit-for-tat murders broke out as rival gangs tried to fill the vacuum left by Escobar's death, and Montoya was determined not to miss his chance.

Rivals were ambushed and shot; some were dismembered. According to police, gun battles left hundreds of people dead.

Villages suspected of loyalty to other drug bosses were burned down.

Torture was also commonplace: in one case, a suspected police informer had his legs cut off with a chainsaw before being nailed to a tree alongside a busy road.

Montoya established his preeminence and with a violent, vice-like grip established on the global cocaine market, he built a fortress deep in the Colombian jungle, with 27 bedrooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a 45-seat cinema and a state-oftheart security system controlled by 'Los Machos' - a 100-strong gang of trusted henchmen.

Yet there was a crucial difference between Montoya and Escobar, his predecessor as king of cocaine.

Escobar relished the limelight that eventually brought him down, but Montoya and the newer generation of traffickers sought a lower profile, while wielding unrestrained violence at the slightest provocation.

As well as paying millions of pounds in bribes to ensure his cocaine could safely be exported from Colombia, Montoya lavished gifts on local people in the area, buying more than 74 ranches which he handed out to the poor.

This was entirely pragmatic: it meant the land around his fortress was in the hands of those loyal to him, ready to alert him to threats. It made him virtually unassailable.

So how was he eventually caught? The truth is that the U.S. - which has paid billions of pounds in aid to Colombia - exerted immense pressure for the Colombian authorities to act.

The Colombians were told that $700m in aid would be blocked unless Montoya was put out of business.

At the same time, just as the CIA, FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency were building their case against him, Montoya became embroiled in an escalating gang war with other drug lords who were challenging him for control.

He carried out armed raids on rival cocaine compounds, gunning down enemies with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, but soon Montoya - who was becoming increasingly paranoid - discovered that the threat came from within his own cartel.

One of his men, Wilber Varela - nicknamed "Soap" on account of his knack for escaping arrest - launched a brutal internal power struggle against Montoya, splitting the organisation and leading to hundreds of deaths.

The retribution on Varela was characteristically swift and bloody.

After one of Montoya's attacks on Varela's forces, bodies were reportedly "stacked like firewood by the road", many of them mutilated to serve as a warning to others prepared to challenge his rule.

Last night, Varela the Soap was rumoured to be in hiding in fear of his life in neighbouring Venezuela.

Other traitors did not escape so lightly.

Victor Patino, a former high-ranking member of the Montoya clan, had agreed to testify against his former boss in the U.S. in return for a lesser sentence after being captured with drugs.

On hearing of this, Montoya ordered that Patino's clan should be "taken out", leading to 35 members of his family being shot and butchered by his gunmen before being set alight in retaliation for the betrayal.

So wary now was the cartel boss that he started demanding receipts from those he had sold drugs to, as well as from military figures he had bribed.

After writing out how much they had received, each had to place a fingerprint on the receipt, meaning Montoya could prove they were corrupt should they be tempted to betray him.

But the net was closing in.

Colombian police found more than $50m in cash buried in a building known to be used by Montoya. There were also 150 kilos in gold bars - the biggest haul of drugs money ever found.

Then, earlier this year, Montoya's brother Eugenio, who was also the cartel's second-in-command, was arrested in a Miami penthouse.

The apartment, worth 1m, and Eugenio's 2m yacht the Mar Mayor were seized by police.

The arrest of Montoya's brother led the U.S.-backed teams to believe they were on the brink of capturing the kingpin himself.

They were tipped off that he was hiding in disguise at a psychiatric hospital 200 miles south of Bogota - and they moved in.

It was an ambush. After a ferocious gun-battle, 11 members of an elite U.S.-trained squad of Colombian special forces lay dead around the hospital.

It later transpired that the special forces hunting Montoya had been murdered by fellow members of the Colombian military - hired personally by "Mr War."

Around the same time, Luis 'Scratchy' Bustamante, another Montoya henchman, was captured and extradited to the U.S. after pledging to cooperate with the authorities.

The gang's alleged money-laundering chief, Juan 'Lollipop' Abadia, was arrested last month in Brazil.

To Montoya's dismay, police also seized some of the drug lord's prime assets, including a personal speedway track that he used to race his collection of more than two dozen sports cars, along with the 74 ranches he had given to the poor and eight of his own houses.

Montoya went into hiding, but with so many now turning evidence against him, it was only a matter of time before he was caught.

While delighted at his eventual capture this week, drug enforcement officials were wary of celebrating too much last night.

They fear another violent, ambitious thug will simply rise from Colombia's slums to take the place of "Don" Diego Montoya.

But, for now at least, the world's most wanted and most lethal narcobillionaire is safely behind bars.

see also
2007
Cocaine, Inc
Pablo Escobar
Diego Montoya
George W. Bush
Mexican cocaine
Coca eradication
Cocaine resources
Colombian cocaine
The Colombian navy
UK cocaine use soars
Benjamin Arellano Felix





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