Yet another member of the FARC, the Colombian guerilla army that allegedly uses cocaine trafficking and kidnapping to fund its revolution, has been extradited to the U.S. to face U.S. criminal charges. Roque Orobio Lobon, who is charged with grabbing an American citizen off the streets of Panama City, Panama in 2008 and holding him for ransom, was handed over to U.S. authorities by Colombian police and arrived in New York on Tuesday.
Lobon's extradition comes just a week after another FARC leader was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. Authorities say that in recent years the FARC, a leftist group of 10,000 armed guerillas that has long sought to overthrow Colombia's elected government, has turned increasingly to illicit activities to raise money. Fifty FARC leaders are currently under U.S. indictment on drug charges. A 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office says the FARC is responsible for 60 percent of the total cocaine exported from Colombia to the U.S.
According to Lobon's indictment, he kidnapped Cecilio Juan Padron for ransom on April 4, 2008 in Panama City at the direction of leaders of the FARC's 57th Front.
"Roque Orobio Lobon is accused of planning and carrying out the kidnapping of an American citizen who was threatened with death by one of the most violent factions of the FARC, its 57th Front," said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Bharara said that Lobon's indictment describes the FARC's "procurement of weapons and explosives, and the cocaine trafficking which finances them."
The kidnappers demanded ransom from the victim's family, and released Padron in February 2009 after it was paid by a family member, according to a U.S. law enforcement official. U.S. and Justice Department officials would not comment on the ransom or the amount that was paid to the kidnappers.
The arrest and extradition of Lobon resulted from the cooperative efforts of several U.S. agencies and the Colombian National Police.
"This operation is an example of how a strong partnership between Colombia and the United States is successful in combating drug trafficking and terrorism. Our governments have worked hand in hand to eliminate illegal activity and will continue to do so," a spokesperson for the Colombian Ministry of Defense told ABC News. Lobon was captured in Colombia by Colombian police in March 2009.
Padron, a Cuban exile with dual American and Panamanian citizenship, was said to have been working on some business deals in Panama when he was kidnapped. He has been actively involved in the leadership of the Cuban American National Foundation, the largest organization for Cubans in exile in the United States.
Several other men were charged in the indictment, including two leaders of the FARC's 57th Front, Julio Enrique Lemos-Moreno and Luis Fernando Mora-Pestana, the latter of whom allegedly financed the operation on behalf of the FARC.
Three other members of the FARC, Edilberto Berrio Oritz, Alejandro Palacios Rengifo, and Anderson Chamapuro Dogirama, also were indicted for their alleged involvement in holding Padron hostage for ten months in the Colombian jungle. They were arrested in June 2009 and await extradition to the United States. All of the defendants were charged with two counts related to hostage-taking, and face a maximum sentence of life in prison if they are convicted.
Formed in 1964, the FARC is structured as a military organization, with seven blocs, 77 fronts, and four urban militias, and operates in roughly one-third of Colombia. The 57th Front operates in the territory within Colombia's Choco Department, a region in the western part of the country that borders Panama.
"The FARC has waged a brutal war on the people of Colombia for decades, kidnapping and taking hostages for their own selfish aims," FBI Miami Division Special Agent-in-Charge John Gilles said.
The U.S. Department of Justice also alleges that the FARC is responsible for exporting more than $25 billion worth of cocaine to the United States and other countries.
"From [its] jungle hideaway, the FARC uses the drug trade to bankroll terrorism in Colombia, finance attacks on innocent citizens, and poison Americans," said then-DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy in 2006. Lobon's indictment follows a July 22, 2010 announcement that Gerardo Aguilar Ramirez, a former front commander in the FARC, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for conspiring to import thousands of tons of cocaine into the United States. On the same day, another leader of the FARC, Ignacio Leal Garcia, was extradited to face cocaine importation conspiracy charges. Garcia was the fifth member to be extradited on a sealed March 2006 indictment charging 50 leaders of the FARC with manufacturing and distributing drugs.
"As a result of this intensive investigation another officer of the FARC has been extradited to the United States to face drug manufacturing and distribution charges," DEA Special Agent-in-Charge John P. Gilbride commented.