According to newspaper El Colombiano, the commander of paramilitary group AGC was captured in an operation in Necocli, a municipality on the Caribbean coast.
The government’s peace commissioner, Emilio Archila, confirmed the arrest.
The arrest of Otoniel ends the largest manhunt since Pablo Escobar escaped from prison in 1991.
“Operation Agamenon,” which sought to capture or kill the AGC chief, was announced by former President Juan Manuel Santos in February 2012 but without results for almost 10 years.
The US Government considers the AGC Colombia’s largest drug trafficking organization and promised a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Otoniel in 2017.
The paramilitary commander spent most of his life underground, initially as a guerrilla of now-demobilized guerrilla group EPL and later as a member of now-defunct paramilitary organization AUC.
Otoniel joined AGC founder “Don Mario” in 2006 after both abandoned the demobilization program with the AUC in 2006.
The AGC chief became the sole commander of Colombia’s most powerful paramilitary group after the death of his brother, “Giovanny,” in January 2012.
Unless Colombia’s government extradited “Otoniel” to the United States, the captured warlord who will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
According to the prosecution, the long-time commander of paramilitary group AGC had been sentenced to six prison sentences, including one of 50 years and another of 40.
Otoniel’s local convictions
- Forced disappearance
- Forced displacement
- Recruitment of minors
Pending charges in Colombia
- Recruitment of minors
- Conspiracy to commit a crime
- Illegal weapons
- Drug trafficking
Since its formation in 2006, the group that would later become the AGC has been held responsible for the majority of human rights violation in Colombia.
Otoniel will unlikely make it out of prison alive unless the warlord is extradited to the United States, where the long-time paramilitary commander is only facing drug trafficking charges.
Will Otoniel evade lengthy prison sentence?
Whether the captured AGC chief will be extradited depends on the president and the Supreme Court who can both block extradition requests.
The extradition of captured paramilitary leaders is a sensitive issue in Colombia.
According to victim organizations and lawmakers, the government has extradited former paramilitaries to conceal authorities’ involvement in organized crime and terrorism.
Extradition forms part of the Colombian government strategy… to frustrate the rights of victims, and promote impunity for those most responsible for the crimes committed by paramilitary groups over the past 25 years: politicians at local, regional and national level, members of the Colombian Armed Forces, State officials, corporations and large landowners.Judicial experts and victim organizations
President Ivan Duque said in 2019 that “extradition does not end or suspend proceedings in Colombia” after the court asked to suspend the extradition of “Pipon,” one of Otoniel’s former lieutenants.
Before the end of 2020, the government had lost all “information on the whereabouts” of Pipon, according to opposition Senator Antonio Sanguino.
Hundreds of victims of AGC founder “Don Mario” were left without justice after his extradition, the attorneys of the former paramilitary commander and his victims said earlier this year.
Mario had been cooperating with justice since his arrest since 2009, but this came to an end because “it hasn’t been possible to set up communication channels with the prosecution,” according to the former warlord’s attorney.
The prosecution allegedly claimed that Mario “supposedly ended the process, but that’s a lie,” the defense attorney said.
Political motives to extradite Otoniel
While there exist no legal reasons to extradite Otoniel, the long-time AGC chief is a major liability for Duque’s mafia patrons.
One of the president’s former campaign chiefs, Luis Alfredo Ramos, was sentenced to prison earlier this year for the far-right politician’s ties to among others, Otoniel’s paramilitary group.
Multiple former police commanders were arrested earlier this month for their ties to an alleged drug traffickers chief of the AGC.
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Pending charges in the US
According to the US Department of State, the captured AGC chief was first indicted for drug trafficking in 2009.
Courts in Florida and New York indicted Otoniel and other founding members of his paramilitary group on new drug trafficking charges in 2015.
The long-time paramilitary chief lost legal protection against extradition because he abandoned the demobilization process with now-defunct paramilitary organization AUC and rearmed in 2006.