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Colombia police unearth $54 mn in drugs stashes

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos says that the money and gold are hoarded by Juan Carlos, one of the nation's 12 most wanted drug traffickers.

india Updated: Jan 18, 2007 04:35 IST

Colombian authorities on Wednesday said they had unearthed more than $54 million in cash and gold ingots in four houses in what they called the countries largest haul of illicit drug money.

Police discovered the first stash last week after receiving a tip. Late on Tuesday, officials used hydraulic drills to dig out $19 million packed into a pit covered with a concrete in a house belonging to the Norte de Valle drug gang in Cali.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told reporters the money and gold were hoarded by Juan Carlos "Lollipop" Ramirez, one of the nation's 12 most wanted drug traffickers. The United States wants Ramirez extradited so he can face drug charges.

"There is more than $54 million. Just in this one there is $19 million and they are still finishing the count," Santos told Caracol radio at the third house.

Raiding a fourth building on Wednesday officials found gold bars stuffed into suitcases behind a wall. Police detained 20 people, including six suspects with US extradition warrants for drug trafficking.

Judicial police commander Gen Oscar Naranjo said traffickers used one of the houses to store cash to pay for operations while others were protected in a "federal reserve" for long-term storage.

Ramirez served more than four years in prison in the 1990s after confessing to shipping 30 tonnes of cocaine to the United States and smuggling drugs to Mexico with the Tijuana drug cartel.

On Monday, authorities arrested Eugenio Montoya, the brother of Diego Leon "Don Diego" Montoya, who Colombian and US authorities charge is the boss of the Norte de Valle cartel.

Experts estimate Colombia, the world's top producer of cocaine, makes about 600 tonnes of the drug annually. The United States has provided millions of dollars in aid to President Alvaro Uribe to assist in his fight against the drug trade and the country's rebel insurgency.

Five years ago, police discovered $35 million in cash packed into the walls of an apartment in a wealthy Bogota neighborhood. Earlier this year, 140 soldiers were jailed for pocketing $16 million in cash they found in a rebel hideout.

First Published: Jan 18, 2007 03:02 IST