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45 days of intel work led to drug lord's capture in Venezuela

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
September 19, 2012 -- Updated 2224 GMT (0624 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Venezuelan authorities give new details on capture of Daniel "El Loco" Barrera
  • It took 45 days and 14 intelligence teams to find him
  • Venezuela's justice and interior minister makes no mention of U.S. help

(CNN) -- It took 14 teams and 45 days of daily intelligence operations to nab one of Colombia's last great crime bosses in Venezuela, an official in that country said.

Venezuelan Justice and Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami on Wednesday gave the first detailed account of the capture of accused drug lord Daniel "El Loco" Barrera in San Cristobal, Venezuela.

The operation to capture Barrera began when Colombian authorities shared intelligence with Venezuela about his whereabouts on August 6, El Aissami said.

Venezuela then deployed 14 "intelligence and search" teams in three states and the Venezuelan capital to try to locate him.

Officials tapped 69 pay phones that may have been used by Barrera to manage his alleged drug empire in Colombia and beyond, the minister said.

The monitoring operation stretched for weeks, as Barrera rarely made phone calls himself, preferring to have third parties use the public phones to call Colombia to run the business, El Aissami said.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the arrest in a televised speech Tuesday.

He called Barrera the "last of the great (crime) bosses" and said the operation was directed from Washington, with collaboration between British, Colombian, U.S. and Venezuelan authorities. The British intelligence agency MI-6 and the CIA played a role, he said.

More: 'Queen of Cocaine' killed in Colombia

The Venezuelan minister, however, did not mention either the United States or Britain and described it as a solely Venezuelan-Colombian operation.

The United States and Venezuela have butted heads over anti-drug operations. Venezuela kicked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration out from the country in 2005, and the United States has published reports questioning Venezuela's anti-drug efforts.

This week's arrest is evidence that Venezuela is tough on drug trafficking, El Aissami said.

Barrera was in possession of a fake passport under the name of "Jose Tomas Lucumi Popo," the minister said.

The alleged drug lord had also undergone multiple plastic surgeries to change his appearance, in both Colombia and Venezuela, he said.

In October 2010, Colombian authorities said they found more than $29 million and 17 million euros in cash stashed in two homes that Barrera owned. At the time, the South American country's defense minister called it the "biggest drug-money seizure operation in the country's history."

Earlier that year, the U.S. Department of the Treasury said Barrera played a significant role in international drug trafficking and described him as one of Colombia's most-wanted drug traffickers, noting in a statement that the Colombian government had offered a $2.5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

The statement said Barrera operated primarily in the eastern plains of Colombia, between the capital of Bogota and the Venezuelan border.

An indictment unsealed in a Florida federal court in September 2011 accuses Barrera of conspiring to manufacture, distribute and import cocaine into the United States. If convicted on those charges, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, the U.S. Attorney's Office said at the time.

More: Mexico police capture alleged cartel leader

CNN's Catherine Shoichet contributed to this report.

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