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News Release [printer friendly page]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 22, 2006
(202) 514-2007
TDD (202) 514-1888

Transcript of Attorney General's Press Conference Announcing
Charges Against 50 Leaders of Narco-Terrorist FARC in Colombia

WASHINGTON, D.C.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES:  Good morning.  I am joined on stage today by DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Anne Patterson, and Colombia's Ambassador to the United States, President Andres Pastrana.

In addition, we're joined today by Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher of the Criminal Division, and U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, is one of the Justice Department's highest priority targets in our fight against illegal drug trafficking.  For years, this group has controlled the production and distribution of massive amounts of cocaine that ends up in America's communities.  And today I'm pleased to announce important steps in bringing the leaders of this narco terrorist group to justice. 

A federal indictment was unsealed today in Washington, D.C. charging 50 members of FARC's policymaking and operational leadership with importing more than $25 billion worth of cocaine into the United States and other countries.

This is the largest narcotics trafficking indictment ever filed in U.S. history, and fuels our hope to reduce narco violence in Colombia and stem the tide of illegal drugs entering our country.

I should remind everyone that this indictment does not mean that these defendants have been convicted of a crime.  They are innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law. 

Today's indictment names those individuals who are responsible for overseeing the production of more than 60 percent of the cocaine imported into the United States. 

Three of the top FARC leaders charged today are already in custody in Colombia, and we've begun the process to have them extradited to the United States.  The remaining 47 are at large, hiding in the remote reaches of Colombia, surrounded by heavily armed FARC loyalists. 

We're also announcing a rewards program to help lead to their arrests, and working with the government of Colombia to rid their country of these dangerous narco terrorists.  We believe these men are responsible for not only manufacturing and exporting devastating amounts of cocaine, but enforcing their criminal regime with violence.  For instance, the indictment alleges that farmers who did not comply with FARC rules were shot, stabbed, and even dismembered alive.

In addition, the indictment alleges that members of the FARC leadership worked to attack and disrupt coca eradication efforts, threatening and killing local farmers, ordering members to kidnap and murder Colombian and U.S. persons, and shooting down airplanes they believed were used for fumigation.

Several of the leaders of the FARC named in today's indictment appear on the Justice Department's Consolidated Priority Organization target list, which identifies the most dangerous international drug trafficking organizations.  The list was created at the beginning of this Administration to ensure that drug enforcement resources were directed in the most productive fashion possible.

This initiative has been successful.  Last year we dismantled six of these organizations and disrupted the operations of six more.  From Afghanistan to Mexico, and from South America to the Middle East, we are identifying the world's most significant drug dealers, and then working with our international partners to arrest them and extradite them to the United States for prosecution.

Today's announcement shows that we are on the right track, but there is more work to be done.

I'd like to thank all of the dedicated investigators and prosecutors involved in this case, including those from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, the Criminal Division, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service, and members of the New York Strike Force.

I am particularly grateful for our law enforcement partners in Colombia.  This indictment is a product of unprecedented cooperation between our nations.  I look forward to continuing our work together on this case and others of importance to the people of Colombia and the United States.

Before taking your questions, we will hear from Karen Tandy, then Anne Patterson, and finally, Ambassador Pastrana.

MS. TANDY:  Good morning.  The FARC's fingerprint is on most of the cocaine that's sold in American neighborhoods.  Americans are responsible for giving the FARC their lifeblood to the amount of $25 billion for 2,500 metric tons of cocaine.

To put that into perspective, the FARC has received approximately $3 billion more than the annual budget of the Department of Justice.  That includes all federal prosecutors and the combined annual budgets of DEA, the FBI, ATF, the United States Marshall Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. 

In Colombia, the FARC and its annual revenue is second only to the oil companies who work there.  The FARC refers to cocaine as its lifeblood, and it is cocaine that allows the FARC to brutally sap the lifeblood of Americans and Colombians. 

This is just a short list that the Attorney General gave you some of, and to add to the shooting, the stabbing and the dismembering of live people, thousands of Colombians each year, sometimes for something as simple as diluting the purity of cocaine, or for selling cocaine to non-FARC distributors, in addition to that short list of brutality by this terrorist organization, add to that that the FARC guerrillas cut open the bodies of the people who have been murdered by the FARC, filled them with rocks, and sink them with rivers.

Add to that that the FARC kidnaps and forces children to join in their army by threatening them and their families.  Add to that that they confiscate farmers' lands and force them into homeless exile.

You heard the Attorney General talk about the kidnapping and murdering of U.S. citizens to intimidate and interfere with -- to intimidate those who would interfere with the FARC cocaine trafficking, but it is also an insidious part of the FARC modus operandi that they plot to kidnap, torture and kill U.S. law enforcement who they seek to retaliate against for investigating them.

The FARC is a terrorist organization to be sure, but they are also drug traffickers.  And it is the drug trafficking that is the lifeblood of how they carry out their terrorism.  But make no mistake, they're not just ordinary drug traffickers.  To call them that would be something akin to calling Al Capone a tax cheat.

Because the FARC is responsible for more than 60 percent of the cocaine that's smuggled into the United States, today is the beginning of the end for the FARC and their savage brand of justice.  For the first time today, the FARC will have to face its own worst fear:  American justice.

MS. PATTERSON:  I am very pleased to announce today that the Department of State, through its Narcotics Rewards program, is offering rewards of up $5 million each for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of seven secretariat leaders of the FARC.  And these are Pedro Antonio Marin, also known as Tirofijo.  Luis Agar Davia Sylvan, also known as Raoul Reyes.  Luciano Marin Arango, also known as Ivan Marquez.  Guillermo Leon Sanchez, also known as Alphonso Cano.  Manuel Munoz Ortiz, also known as Ivan Rios.  Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, also known as Mono Jojoy.  And Rodrigo Londono Echeverry, also known as Timoleon Jimenez.

The Department of State is also offering rewards of up to $2.5 million for the arrest and/or conviction of another 17 members of the FARC whose names will be made available to you.

These reward offers are made under the authority of the Secretary of State's Narcotics Rewards program.  This program was established by Congress in 1986 as a tool to assist the U.S. government in identifying and bringing to justice the major narcotics traffickers responsible for bringing hundreds of tons of illicit drugs into the United States each year.

The FARC controls the majority of cocaine manufacturing and distribution within Colombia and is responsible for much of the world's cocaine supply and what is trafficked to the United States.  The FARC is a highly structured criminal organization, and the individuals named in the indictment that Attorney General Gonzales has revealed today are its very top leaders.  Since the inception of the Narcotics Rewards program, the Secretary of State has authorized more than $24 million in rewards payments to individuals who came forward with information that led to the downfall of the Medellin and Cali cartels in Colombia, major Mexican trafficking organizations, and heroin traffickers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and Thailand.

Through our worldwide counter-narcotics programs, and by working closely with our friends and colleagues in the law enforcement community, we plan to win the fight against drugs.  Offering rewards to bring down drug kingpins is one of the ways that we can achieve this.

Thank you.

PRESIDENT PASTRANA:  Thank you, Mr. Attorney.  The indictment of 50 leaders of the FARC guerrillas is a decision taken by the Department of Justice of the United States.  The accusation is based on evidence gathered by the U.S. officials who have worked in very close collaboration with Colombian authorities. 

As you know, the FARC have been previously determined to be a terrorist organization by the State Department and the European Union. 

Colombia is one of the main victims of the global war on drugs.  Thousands of innocent citizens, journalists, judges, politicians, soldiers, and police officers, have given their lives to this cause.  Money from international narco trafficking fuels all violent groups in my country.

Colombia has been and remains deeply committed to defeating the drug train.  To win the war on drugs, to raise our children safe, we must fight not only against the production of narcotics in countries such as Colombia, but against the demand of drugs in Europe and the United States where millions of consumers live.  We all share that responsibility.

Colombia is a partner of the United States and other countries in the war on drugs.  There can be no doubt about this.  Our progress in this war, acknowledged by many in the international community, is in great part a consequence of a plan Colombia developed eight years ago to put an end to illicit drugs, to strengthen our democracy, provide alternative development and enhance our military forces, with the support of the United States.  It is also a consequence of the policy of democratic security of President Alvero Uribe government.

Colombia will continue to work with the United States and the international community to bring to justice individuals and groups who are proven to be involved in drug trafficking.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Questions?  Yes?

QUESTION:  What are the prospects for bringing these other individuals to justice?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES:  Well, we obviously -- these are very serious crimes, and the indictment indicates very serious conduct, and we are very optimistic about this case, of course, but this is the beginning of the process, and we look forward to continuing to work with Colombia to ensure that we can bring these members of the FARC organization to justice.  That's all I can say about that.

QUESTION:  You mentioned that this is the beginning of the end, or it was mentioned that it was the beginning of the end for the FARC and just the beginning of the process, but as I recall, there are other indictments against some of these people from the FARC since 2002, 2003, and till now, there hasn't been any arrests in their cases.  So that would be my comment.

And the other thing, this is superseding indictment, so it means it's replacing another indictment?  Is that indictment the same charges, or it added new names to the indictment or?

MS. TANDY:  First of all, as to your first comment, there are high level members of the FARC who have been extradited by Colombia who are facing trial in the United States this year.  And Colombia has arrested three other members of the FARC who are in prison in Colombia right now who are also listed in this indictment.

The indictment actually addresses and decimates the entire leadership of the FARC, and that is a first for the U.S. charges.  This indictment supersedes a partial indictment, and this brings to a complete chapter the entire FARC leadership and its cocaine trafficking and conspiracy to do so in the United States.

QUESTION:  Will the U.S. consider at any moment having a joint force with Colombia to search for these FARC members?  And a second question, the U.S. sent a forensic team last week, or a couple of weeks ago to Colombia, because there were reports that the bodies of three contractors might be in a shallow grave.  What were the results, if you know, of that investigation?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES:  I cannot comment on the results of the investigation as to cooperation with Colombia, whether or not there is a task force necessary.  There is already in place an incredible amount of cooperation.  We have the infrastructure in place to work side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with the law enforcement community in Colombia so that we can both be effective in dealing with this terrible threat to both of our societies.

Mr. President, do you want to comment on that at all?

PRESIDENT PASTRANA:  No.

QUESTION:  But does this indictment in some way open the way for U.S. troops to help in the search for these members of FARC?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES:  Well, again, I'm not going to comment as to specific actions that the Administration is going to be considering or discussing with the Colombia authorities.  Obviously, we consider all options, all effective options in dealing effectively with this threat, and they all remain on the table.

QUESTION:  Mr. Attorney General, if I can shift gears, 9/11 clearly did not happen on your watch, but as the Moussaoui trial unfolds, we're seeing some of the mistakes made by the U.S. government leading up to 9/11.

Are you watching the trial looking for ways to make sure law enforcement doesn't repeat some of the mistakes of the past?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES:  Well, since 9/11, we obviously -- I think we can all agree that we've learned a lot.  We're dealing with a new kind of threat, a new kind of enemy, and that requires -- it has required new thinking and new strategies by the Administration.

We saw that thinking reflected in recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, and many of those recommendations have now been implemented and adopted, including the reorganization of the FBI, a reorganization within the Department of Justice.  We now have the creation of the Homeland Security Department.  We now have the infrastructure to share information much better.

And so clearly, I think we learned a lot, and we've reacted to what occurred on September 11th.  And as I've said many times, I think America is safer today.  We're not safe.  We still have a very dangerous threat to the United States, but I think we are clearly safer today.

QUESTION:  Just one very quick follow-up on that.  Do you think that in today's FBI that if an agent tried to talk to his superiors 70 times, seven with a zero, 70 times, about a potential terrorism suspect, they would get someone's attention?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES:  I'm not going to comment on anything relating to the trial.  What I will say is that we obviously are more sensitive today about threats to the United States, and we believe that we have better procedures, better infrastructure to share information.

QUESTION:  I have a follow-up not related to the Moussaoui trial.  The head of the New York field office, which is the largest FBI office in the country, recently complained that most agents still don't have Blackberry devices, which most, you know, teenagers have them, but the number one office still doesn't have the technology.  And then last week, the Bureau unveiled its latest effort to build a state of the art case file system. 

How confident are you that the FBI has fixed its technology problems and still would be able to connect all the dots if they're floating around within the system?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES:  Well, as I indicated, I think we are safer today.  And, obviously, we need -- we strive every day to make ourselves more effective in terms of sharing information so that we can identify and deal with the threat.  And I have -- I speak regularly with Bob Mueller about Sentinel, the new virtual case file program that they're working on.

It's very, very important for the success of the Department, quite frankly, to have that be a successful program, because we have to have the best technology, which allows us to share information most effectively if we're going to be effective in dealing with terrorism.  And so it's something that's important for me personally. 

I know it's important to Bob Mueller, and we have the support of -- I mean, it's being reviewed by the Inspector General.  That program is being reviewed by the Inspector General.  We have a high level review committee within the Department of Justice. 

Obviously, key members of Congress are very, very concerned about the program.  And so there is a lot of discussion, review about this program, because we believe that it's got to -- that it needs to be successful for the continued security of our country.

Yes?

QUESTION:  Any kind of indictment as big as this one for the paramilitarist groups?  I mean, are you also looking for -- are there studies shown of the -- I mean, the older paramilitaries?  I know in Belize --

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES:  Well, what I can say is, is that we ask for the extradition of individuals that we believe we can bring to justice here in the United States.  And whenever we can marshal up the evidence in a way we feel that we can move forward with the -- an indictment, and with the prosecution, that's what we do.

And so, with respect to other individuals, again, we will continue to work with our Colombian counterparts, with the Colombian government, to ensure that those who are engaged in criminal conduct in the United States and in Colombia are brought to justice.

QUESTION:  Is there any practical change?  I mean, in this indictment that's been brought here, 47 of the 50 people indicted remain at large.  I take it these are people who have been of interest to the Colombian government for some time?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES:  Well, I think that whether or not it makes a difference, and that's a very legitimate question, is this going to have any effect?  What's the effect of this indictment? 

And I think you can see it in the reaction to -- by the members of the FARC to the notion that this indictment might be coming, that there might be action by the U.S. government in concert with the Colombian government in terms of threats and retaliation and reprisals. 

I think that members of the FARC do not want to face American justice.  And so I think that whether or not there is going to be an effect, I think you can judge that by the conduct of the FARC in preparation for this announcement.

Thank you very much.

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