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Press Release

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Conviction Of Colombian Narcotics Trafficker For Conspiracy To Engage In Narco-Terrorism And Other Terrorism And Narcotics Charges

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York
Defendant Also Found Guilty Of Conspiring To Provide Material Support To The FARC And Conspiring To Acquire And Transfer Anti-Aircraft Missiles

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the conviction yesterday of RAFAEL ANTONIO GARAVITO-GARCIA for conspiracy to engage in narco-terrorism, and other terrorism and narcotics charges. Following an eight-day trial before U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, the jury found GARAVITO-GARCIA guilty of all four counts with which he was charged: conspiracy to engage in narco-terrorism (Count One), conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, knowing or intending that the cocaine would be imported into the United States (Count Two), conspiracy to provide material support and resources to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia (the “FARC”) (Count Three), and conspiracy to acquire and transfer anti-aircraft missiles (Count Four). GARAVITO-GARCIA was arrested in Colombia on April 5, 2013, following a long-term investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (“DEA”) Special Operations Division, and arrived in the Southern District of New York on July 22, 2014. The guilty verdict marks the first time in the District a defendant has been convicted at trial of conspiracy to engage in narco-terrorism, although in prior cases there have been pleas of guilty to the narco-terrorism conspiracy charge.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As a unanimous jury has found, Rafael Antonio Garavito-Garcia was at the heart of a conspiracy to import cocaine into the U.S. and arm a terrorist organization with sophisticated weaponry that would be used against U.S. forces in Colombia. Thanks to the outstanding work of the DEA, another dangerous international criminal no longer poses a threat. He now awaits sentencing on these serious crimes.”

According to court documents and the evidence presented at trial:

Beginning in the summer of 2012, GARAVITO-GARCIA communicated with confidential sources (the “CSs”) working with the DEA who purported to be representatives and/or associates of the FARC. The communications occurred by telephone, over e-mail, and in a series of audio-recorded and videotaped meetings. Following initial recorded meetings in Brazil, GARAVITO-GARCIA accompanied the CSs to Guinea Bissau, where he introduced them to two local men, whom he indicated were his associates in that country. GARAVITO-GARCIA later introduced the CSs to a Colombian man, whom GARAVITO-GARCIA identified as his drug trafficking partner.

During meetings in Guinea-Bissau beginning in June 2012, and continuing through November 2012, GARAVITO-GARCIA agreed to receive and store multi-ton shipments of FARC-owned cocaine in Guinea-Bissau. He agreed, in particular, to receive the cocaine in Guinea-Bissau and to store the cocaine there pending the eventual shipment of some of the cocaine to the United States, where it would be sold for the financial benefit of the FARC. GARAVITO-GARCIA also agreed to sell some of the cocaine himself, and to provide the FARC with some of the proceeds of his drug sales. Also during those meetings, GARAVITO-GARCIA and his associates agreed to help arrange to purchase weapons for the FARC, including surface-to-air missiles, by importing them into Guinea-Bissau for the nominal use of the Guinea-Bissau military.

For example, on June 30, 2012, during a recorded meeting in Guinea Bissau with the CSs, GARAVITO-GARCIA and his Guinea Bissau-based associates agreed to assist in the distribution of FARC cocaine by facilitating the shipment of cocaine to Guinea Bissau inside loads of military uniforms. They also agreed to establish a front company in Guinea Bissau to facilitate the export of cocaine from Guinea Bissau to the United States. On July 2, 2012, GARAVITO-GARCIA introduced the CSs to General Antonio Indjai, who was then head of the Guinea-Bissau Armed Forces, and helped win Indjai’s support for the drug and weapons deal. During another recorded meeting in Guinea Bissau the following day, GARAVITO-GARCIA met with the CSs and a Guinea Bissau military representative and discussed the benefits of using Guinea Bissau as a transshipment point for cocaine obtained in South America and destined for the United States. GARAVITO-GARCIA also discussed with the others the process for offloading the cocaine once it arrived in Guinea Bissau, and the nature of the weapons to be supplied to the FARC to combat American forces assisting the Colombian authorities, including surface-to-air missiles and AK-47 assault rifles.

Thereafter, on August 31, 2012, during a recorded meeting in Bogota, Colombia, GARAVITO-GARCIA and his Colombian partner agreed to facilitate the receipt of approximately 4,000 kilograms of cocaine from the FARC in Guinea Bissau, with the understanding that approximately 500 kilograms of that cocaine would later be sent to customers in the United States and Canada. During a recorded meeting in Guinea Bissau on November 13, 2012, GARAVITO-GARCIA explained to a Guinea Bissau military official that the FARC needed anti-aircraft missiles to be used against United States helicopters operating in Colombia. The military official then advised one of the CSs that the weapons transaction could be executed once the FARC brought money to Guinea Bissau.

GARAVITO-GARCIA was arrested in Bogota, Colombia, on April 5, 2013.

GARAVITO-GARCIA, 70, of Bogota, Colombia, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit narco-terrorism, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years, and a maximum sentence of life in prison. In addition, GARAVITO-GARCIA was convicted of one count of conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, and a maximum sentence of life in prison; one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, namely, the FARC, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison; and one count of conspiracy to acquire and transfer anti-aircraft missiles, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, and a maximum sentence of life in prison. The mandatory minimum and maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Sentencing before Judge Rakoff is scheduled for July 20, 2015, at 4:00 p.m.

In April 2013, an indictment was unsealed charging General Antonio Indjai with conspiracy to commit narco-terrorism, conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States, conspiracy to provide material support to the FARC, and conspiracy to acquire and transfer anti-aircraft missiles. Indjai is currently a charged defendant located outside the arrest jurisdiction of the United States.

The conviction was the result of the close cooperative efforts of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, DEA’s Special Operations Division’s Bilateral Investigation Unit and FAST, the DEA Lisbon Country Office, the DEA Bogota Country Office, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs and its National Security Division, and the U.S. State Department.

This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Aimee Hector, Shane Stansbury, and Ilan Graff are in charge of the prosecution.

Updated May 14, 2015

Press Release Number: 15-084