Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cocaine navy is busted

Herald Sun

Brazil (AP) - The arrest of a fugitive drug lord in Brazil yesterday has toppled an empire that used submarines to put 15 tonnes of cocaine a month on US and European streets.

The raid on "Don Pablo" Rayo-Montano's Brazilian mansion capped a three-year manhunt that resulted in more than 100 arrests, and the seizure of 52 tonnes of cocaine and $92.5 million of the kingpin's assets, including three islands he owned off Panama.

"The Rayo-Montano organisation had its own private, rogue navy to run a drug business that was nearly as sophisticated as a small nation," said US Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen Tandy.

"Rayo-Montano's decadent, drug-funded lifestyle has caught up with him," Ms Tandy said. "This morning, his real estate holdings went from three islands to one jail cell."

New York City-based DEA agents involved in "Operation Twin Oceans" helped identify Mr Rayo-Montano's associates, and an investigation was continuing to run down his city connections.

Mr Rayo-Montano used the islands off Panama's Pacific coast as shipment points for his fleet of cargo vessels outfitted with underwater lines to tow submersibles packed with cocaine, DEA officials said.

The small submarines would mostly be towed on the surface but they could submerge to evade the Coast Guard.

The DEA operation, co-ordinated with the United States Coast Guard, the United States Navy and agents from nine other countries, hit its most sensitive point with the planned raid on Mr Rayo-Montano's Sao Paulo hideout.

US agents feared that Brazilian police, who have seen more than 40 officers killed in the past week in running street battles with local gangs, might be diverted and that Mr Rayo-Montano, tipped off by other arrests, would go on the run.

But the Sensitive Investigations Unit of the Brazilian Federal Police executed the pre-dawn raid on Mr Rayo-Montano's mansion without incident. "The Brazilians really stepped up to the plate on this one," a source said.


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