- Associated Press - Monday, July 13, 2015

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A Serbian court on Monday sentenced a Balkan drug lord to 20 years in prison for smuggling 5.7 tons of cocaine from South America to Europe.

Darko Saric, who had insisted he was innocent and is already in jail, wasn’t present for the reading of the verdict at Serbia’s Court for Organized Crime.

Twenty-one other gang members were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, while three were acquitted.

The 44-year-old Saric was charged with leading a powerful criminal organization that smuggled cocaine from Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay through Balkan countries to Western Europe in 2008 and 2009.

In October 2009, a shipment of 2.7 tons of cocaine that organized by Saric’s gang was intercepted near Uruguay’s coast in an international police operation that included U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

Saric was jailed last year upon surrendering to the authorities after he was located in an unidentified country in Latin America with the help of the U.S. and other international intelligence agencies.

During the trial, Saric insisted that he was framed by Serbia’s previous, liberal government. Several suspects still remain at large.

The Balkans is one of the main drug-smuggling transit routes.

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