Police raided a Cali apartment and caught the reputed boss of the world’s biggest drug gang in his underwear Sunday, days after the president’s election campaign was accused of taking $6.1 million from the cartel.
Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, alleged leader of the Cali cartel, was arrested before dawn along with his ex-wife, a bodyguard, a chauffeur and a maid.
Agents broke down the front door, pushed past the bodyguard and found him trying to hide in a secret closet in a bedroom, said Gen. Jose Serrano, the national police chief. Police said they seized two suitcases of documents, but gave no details.
Rodriguez immediately denied traffickers contributed to President Ernesto Samper’s 1994 campaign. He called Samper’s former campaign treasurer a liar.
Appearing relaxed in a goatee and a blue sports jacket as police with automatic rifles showed him off to reporters in Bogota, Rodriguez said, “the president is an honest man.”
Serrano wouldn’t say what led police to the apartment, but said they knew the general location for about a week and tracked Rodriguez down after the arrest Friday of a top aide described as his communications chief.
According to police, Rodriguez congratulated officers on the arrest, and said their intelligence service was excellent.
Rodriguez is the sixth leader of the Cali cartel to wind up behind bars in two months. The gang is believed to control 80 percent of the world’s cocaine market and an increasing amount of the heroin trade.
Asked why Rodriguez’ ex-wife was with him, Serrano suggested that Rodriguez and his fourth and current wife, a former Miss Colombia, weren’t getting along.
At the White House, drug policy director Lee Brown hailed the arrest of the man he called “possibly the world’s most wanted criminal.”
“With four of their five top leaders now in custody, clearly the Cartel is crumbling,” Brown said in a statement.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administrator Thomas Constantine said the arrests of Rodriguez and the earlier capture of two other cartel leaders “strike a mortal blow against the unholy trinity who lead the Cali mafia.”
The arrest of Rodriguez came in the midst of Colombia’s highest-level drug corruption scandal. Samper’s former campaign treasurer, Santiago Medina, testified that he obtained $6.1 million from the cartel during the campaign with Samper’s approval.
Rodriguez was given a receipt for $4.9 million signed by campaign director Fernando Botero, Medina testified. Botero resigned as defense minister after Medina’s testimony.
A pastor, Bernardo Hoyos, also testified that Rodriguez had shown him documents and played him audiotapes linking Samper’s campaign to the cartel.
Rodriguez’ denial that the cartel made campaign contributions immediately raised speculation that he could be seeking a lenient sentence in exchange for his silence on possible campaign contributions.
Under Colombian law, Rodriguez could get a big reduction in any prison sentence he receives by cooperating with prosecutors.
Samper’s office said the arrest shows the president is committed to fight drug traffickers.