- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

The capture by Mexican police of the leader of one of the most violent drug smuggling organizations in the world has begun a process of extradition that could take years before the reputed drug lord is returned to this country to stand trial.
Benjamin Arellano-Felix is believed by the Drug Enforcement Administration to be the patriarch of a drug cartel that shipped tons of cocaine and marijuana annually into the United States, while laundering millions of dollars in illicit profits.
Indicted in 1992 in California for cocaine trafficking and money-laundering violations, Mr. Arellano-Felix has been a top priority of DEA and Mexican authorities ever since.
His arrest on Saturday, according to DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson, is expected to have a "significant impact" on the organization's ability to smuggle cocaine into the United States and elsewhere.
The arrest and pending extradition are expected to be among the topics discussed by President Bush during his scheduled meetings next week with Mexican President Vicente Fox in Monterrey, Mexico.
Mr. Arellano-Felix, 49, was arrested without incident by Mexican army units early Saturday outside Puebla. He had eluded Mexican authorities for more than 10 years, and is currently being held at the maximum-security La Palma federal prison near Mexico City.
His brother, Ramon Eduardo Arellano-Felix, 37, who was described by Mexican and U.S. authorities as the cartel's chief enforcer, reportedly was killed during a Feb. 10 shootout with Mexican police in Mazatlan. DNA tests are pending to confirm the death.
The DEA is expected to press for Mr. Arellano-Felix's extradition to face the drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges in the United States, although under Mexican law, extradition is not guaranteed but subject only to judicial recommendation.
Mexican law prohibits the extradition of its citizens who might face either a life sentence or the death penalty in a foreign court. In the past, U.S. authorities have brokered deals in which Mexican traffickers have been charged with crimes calling for consecutive 20-year sentences.
Mr. Arellano-Felix first faces prosecution in Mexico, a process expected to take anywhere from 18 months to two years. Under Mexican law, any U.S. request for his extradition would be considered once Mexico had completed its case against the reputed drug boss.
Mexican authorities said Mr. Arellano-Felix had been a resident of Puebla under a false name since August, when he paid $250,000 for a house behind security fences.
The Arellano-Felix organization controls drug trafficking into the United States along the westernmost part of the U.S.-Mexico border, officials say. The organization smuggles marijuana and cocaine into the United States, as well as large quantities of heroin and methamphetamines. It is also believed to distribute an estimated $1 million weekly in bribes to Mexican authorities.
Based in Tijuana, the ring is considered by U.S. drug agents to be one of the largest and most violent in Mexico, blamed for numerous assassinations of police, prosecutors, judges and rivals in the drug trade. Ramon Eduardo Arellano-Felix had been on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list since 1998, with a $2 million reward for his capture.
DEA said Benjamin Arellano-Felix coordinated the activities of the organization through his brothers: Ramon Eduardo and Javier.


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