Attorney General Ashcroft Announces Indictments of FARC Members on Drug Trafficking, Hostage Taking ChargesWashington, DC
November 13, 2002
Attorney General John Ashcroft today announced indictments against leaders and members of the Colombian terrorist group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, on charges of narcotics trafficking and hostage taking. The three indictments, all returned by federal grand juries in Washington, D.C., accuse the FARC defendants of raising money for their terrorist activities through a variety of crimes, including drug trafficking and the kidnapping of American citizens for ransom.
The first indictment, returned in October and unsealed today, charges three defendants with conspiring in 1997 to take U.S. nationals Jerel Shaffer and Earl Goen hostage while they were working in Venezuela in the import/export and oil industries. The indictment names as defendants: Jorge Briceno Suarez, a.k.a. "Mono Jojoy" and "Carlos," the overall military commander of the FARC and, at the time of the events described in the indictment, the commander of the Eastern Bloc of the FARC; Thomas Molina Caracas, a.k.a. Tomas Medina Caracas and "El Patron" and "El Negro Acacio," who at the time was the commander of the 16th Front of the FARC; and a FARC member known as "El Loco" and "Fernando."
The indictment charges that Briceno Suarez and Molina Caracas, along with FARC members and others, worked together in targeting and taking the U.S. nationals hostage in Venezuela, detaining the victims against their will and transporting Shaffer to the jungles of Colombia, where he was bound, beaten and held hostage at gunpoint for nine months until about $1 million was paid for his release. While Shaffer was being transported, his FARC captors murdered two local residents. As a result, the maximum legal punishment for the hostage taking charge is the death penalty.
A second, superseding indictment, also unsealed today at federal court in Washington, D.C., adds defendant Briceno Suarez to a list of defendants, including Thomas Molina Caracas and six others, who are charged with conspiracy to traffic narcotics. Briceno Suarez and Molina Caracas are now charged together with conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and with manufacturing and distributing cocaine within Colombia with the intent and knowledge that it was destined for the United States.
"Today's indictments demonstrate that we will pursue terrorists and terrorist groups in whatever criminal guise they take, be it as narco-terrorists, extortionists, or kidnappers and murderers of Americans and other innocent civilians," stated Attorney General John Ashcroft. "We will pursue them as long as it takes, using every tool at our disposal, no matter where they hide."
According to the superseding indictment, Briceno Suarez is second-in-command to the leader of the FARC. The indictment alleges that Briceno Suarez personally exercised control over the drug conspiracy outlined in the original indictment filed in March 2002, which focused exclusively on the activities of the 16th Front of the FARC under the command of Molina Caracas. Specifically, the indictment alleges that Briceno Suarez approved major drug transactions engaged in by the 16th Front, arbitrated a dispute between FARC members regarding a narcotics-for-weapons deal, and received large sums of money from the leader of the 16th Front. In addition, the indictment alleges that Briceno Suarez directed the FARC units operating in eastern Colombia to deliver cocaine to Molina Caracas, who sent large amounts of U.S. and Colombian currency to Briceno Suarez. According to the superseding indictment, Molina Caracas was required to report to and obtain approval from Briceno Suarez for the cocaine sales transactions that Molina Caracas entered into with international drug traffickers. The indictment charges that Briceno Suarez, Molina Caracas and the other FARC defendants engaged in cocaine trafficking in order to obtain money, weapons, and equipment for the FARC.
A third indictment, also unsealed today in the District of Colombia, charges FARC senior commander Henry Castellanos Garzon, a.k.a. "Comandante Romana," with hostage taking and conspiracy to commit hostage taking for the March 1998 kidnapping of four Americans. The indictment, originally filed under seal in December 1998, charges Romana with kidnapping Louise Augustine, Todd Mark, Thomas Fiore, and Peter Shen – all Americans – and a foreign national. The indictment states that Romana personally interrogated the hostages about their assets and the financial state of their families, in an effort to determine whether to demand ransom and how much. The hostages were released one month after their kidnapping without the payment of any ransom.
Briceno Suarez, Molina Caracas and Romana remain at large, and the U.S. Government is working with Colombian authorities in an effort to locate the fugitives.
Since 1997, the State Department has designated the FARC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The FARC seeks to oppose by force, violence and other criminal activity the nations, governments and individuals who do not share its views. Since at least the early 1960s, the FARC has been violently anti-American and has worked against the interests of the United States, saying in March 1998 that all U.S. officials are legitimate military targets. In addition to narcotics trafficking, the FARC targets through extortion, kidnapping and murder U.S. citizens who work in, visit, or do business in Colombia.
The U.S. Justice Department has pursued criminal charges against the FARC and FARC leaders in the past. In April of this year, Attorney General Ashcroft announced the indictment by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., of the FARC, along with six of its members, on charges of conspiring in 1999 to kidnap and kill Terence Unity Freitas, Ingrid Washinawatok, and Lahee'Enae Gay, all U.S. nationals working with a group of indigenous Colombians. The FARC surveilled and kidnapped them while they were on their way home, and eventually the three hostages were murdered.
The investigation of these terrorists activities of the FARC is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and the Terrorism and Violent Crime Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. Today's drug indictment is the result of an ongoing, two-year investigation of narcotics trafficking by the FARC. The investigation into the cocaine trafficking activities of the FARC was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration - Bogota Country Office, working with the Governments of Colombia, Suriname and Brazil and attorneys from the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.
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