- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A reputed drug czar in Paraguay, known to be a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has been extradited to the United States to stand trial on charges involving a major cocaine, currency and weapons smuggling operation, authorities said yesterday.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen P. Tandy said Ivan Carlos Mendes-Mesquita was indicted in September by a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court in Washington on charges of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute for purposes of unlawful importation.

“His extradition should send a chill down through the spine of drug criminals worldwide because it is extradition to the United States that they fear the most,” Mrs. Tandy said.

Mendes-Mesquita was arrested in November on his ranch in northeastern Paraguay, which was used as a base of operations for his arms-for-cocaine trafficking activities, authorities said. While executing the warrant, drug agents seized a twin-engine aircraft that contained a 500-kilogram — 1,100 pounds — load of cocaine.

Before his arrest, authorities said Mendes-Mesquita was the main link between the FARC, which uses drug profits to fund its four-decade-long battle against the Colombian government, and the Brazilian drug trade. They said he oversaw the exchange of cocaine from the FARC in return for arms, dollars and euros from Brazilian traffickers.

The State Department’s 2005 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report called his capture “a significant accomplishment,” adding that the United States had begun extradition proceedings and that the government of Paraguay had indicated willingness to expedite the process.

A post-conviction Brazilian fugitive, Mendes-Mesquita operated a powerful cocaine, currency and weapons smuggling enterprise from a small Paraguayan town near the Brazilian border, Mrs. Tandy said. He was the source of supply for numerous Brazilian trafficking organizations, including several with strong ties to the Middle East and Europe, she said.

The 500 kilograms of drugs seized during his arrest was typical for Mendes-Mesquita, Mrs. Tandy said. He made three to five flights per month and each contained 200 to 500 kilograms of cocaine, she said.

Mrs. Tandy described the extradition as a “major victory” in an investigation that began in August 2002 to target the drug trafficking activities of the FARC.

FARC, the oldest, largest, most capable and best-equipped insurgency of Marxist origin, was established in 1964 as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party. After kidnapping three U.S. indigenous rights activists from Colombia in March 1999, the FARC executed them in Venezuela.

The group continues to hold hostage three U.S. contractors whose plane crashed in February 2003. One of the Americans was killed. Last December, FARC leader Simon Trinidad, the highest-ranking group official captured, was extradited to the United States on drug charges.

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