Mexico on Wednesday extradited Sergio Villarreal, a suspected drug lord as well as a senior member of the once-powerful Beltran Leyva drug cartel, to the United States to stand trial for drug trafficking and money laundering.
Also known as "El Grande" or the Big One because of his height, Villarreal was arrested along with two accomplices in a raid carried out by the Mexican security forces in the central state of Puebla in September 2010.
Villarreal is believed to have been a senior member of the Beltran Leyva cartel before it split up into warring factions after cartel leader Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed in a gun battle with Mexican security forces in December 2009. Another Beltran Leyva leader, Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, was killed by the Mexican security forces in July 2010.
Villarreal, a former policeman who is said to have worked with several criminal gangs before joining the Beltran Leyva cartel, was listed as one of Mexico's most-wanted drug traffickers by the country's Attorney General's Office in 2009, and the Mexican government had declared a reward of over $2 million for his capture.
Most Mexican states, especially the ones along the border with the US, have witnessed a high level of drug-related violence in recent years as rival drug cartels fight each other for control of the lucrative smuggling routes.
The Mexican government says that more than 45,000 people have died in drug-related violence in the country since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug gangs after taking office in December 2006.
Besides fighting drug cartels, Calderon has deployed thousands of troops across the country to check drug-related violence and launched a massive anti-corruption drive named 'Operation Clean-up' to identify and punish public servants having links with drug cartels.
by RTT Staff Writer
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