Pubdate: Sat, 09 Aug 2003
Source: Herald Sun (Australia)
Copyright: 2003 News Limited


DOZENS of special agents and soldiers today escorted alleged kingpin Jose
Ramon Laija onto a federal plane and flew him to Mexico City to face charges
he ran a powerful drug smuggling syndicate after its two top leaders were

Anti-narcotics investigators say Laija, known as "Coloche", stepped in and
took control of the ruthless Sinaloa cartel after gang leaders Joaquin "El
Chapo" Guzman and Hector Luis Palma were arrested.

Laija and three other suspected drug smugglers was arrested in Tepic, the
capital of the small Pacific Coast state of Nayarit, yesterday.

Police in the Rodeo neighbourhood had stopped their van, had no number
plates and was being driven in "a suspicious manner", according to a
statement released today by the federal attorney-general's office.

Upon searching the vehicle, authorities discovered two Kalashnikovs and a
third rifle and two pistols.

They also found hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a packet containing 300
grams of cocaine, another packet containing a small amount of marijuana and
200,000 pesos ($30,800) in cash.

Arrested on drugs and weapons possession charges, Laija produced a false
identification bearing the name Victor Manuel Ocampo. He and the others were
taken into custody for questioning and, today, authorities decided to
transfer them to Mexico City to broaden their investigation.

Palma, known as "El Guero" or "Blondie", was arrested in 1995 and allegedly
headed the Sinaloa gang, which is thought to control many key smuggling
routes in the north-western state of the same name.

Guzman was arrested in June 1994, but escaped from Puente Grande prison
outside the western city of Guadalajara in January 2001.

Guzman had been accused of helping Palma run the Sinaloa gang and was
serving more than 20 years for criminal association and bribery.
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