Bogota – A total of 22 people were arrested in Colombia, the United States, Spain and Italy in a large international money-laundering sting that involved raids on 300 properties and the seizure of $480 million, police officials in this capital said.
The director of Colombia's Anti-Narcotics Police, Gen. Cesar Augusto Pinzon, who was invited by U.S. authorities to direct Operation Fire and Ice from that country, confirmed Thursday in a press conference in Boston that the arrests were carried out in simultaneous raids in several cities in those four countries.
Since the investigations began into the criminal ring, which was dismantled on Thursday, authorities arrested 86 people, including 23 in Colombia, the police officials in Bogota added.
Most of the detainees are wanted for extradition by the United States.
In the final phase of the operation, Pinzon said that on Thursday 12 people were arrested in Colombia, four in the United States, one in Puerto Rico, another in Madrid and four more in Italy.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the money-laundering unit of Colombia's Attorney General's Office, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, the Massachusetts State Police and Italian police also participated in the operation.
The agencies that monitored the ring over a span of three years also were assisted by Chinese authorities in seizing the laundered drug proceeds.
Gen. Pinzon also said from Boston that properties in the Caribbean island of Curacao worth some $4 million were seized pursuant to expropriation.
The Colombian official said the joint operation that concluded early Thursday was one of the biggest-ever stings against drug-trafficking and money-laundering organizations.
The ring lent money-laundering "services" to, among other organizations, remnants of the notorious Medellin cartel, now operating as La Oficina de Envigado.
The detainees included Aldo Fernando Guerrero Clavijo, who is suspected of being one of the biggest international launderers of drug proceeds and who carried out multiple international money transfers via exchange houses, authorities said.
"This investigation not only has been a lengthy one, but it's been extremely complex," U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said at the press conference in Boston.
Half of the $480 million was seized in Colombia, while another $30 million was confiscated in Italy, $20 million in Puerto Rico and the rest in the United States (including Puerto Rico).
Pinzon said the probe into the ring began three years ago and in recent months the operation had been divided into three phases that mainly targeted La Oficina de Evigado and Los Paisas, another Colombian organized-crime gang that is currently led by Maximiliano Bonilla.
According to Colombian National Police estimates, the ring dismantled Thursday laundered between $150-200 million in drug proceeds over the past three years.
All of the 22 suspects are to be tried in Boston on the money-laundering charges.
Gen. Pinzon and the U.S. officials also said that more than a ton of cocaine was seized in the joint operation.