Colombian police escort Erikson Vargas, the alleged drug gang leader of “La Oficina de
Envigado”, after he was captured (AFP, Guillermo Legaria)

BOGOTA, Colombia  (AFP) — A leader of a major Colombian drug trafficking organization, with alleged ties to Mexico’s feared Zetas cartel, was arrested Wednesday in the northeastern city of Medellin, Colombian authorities said.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos cheered Erikson Vargas’s arrest as a “fatal blow” to the “Oficina de Envigado” crime group and told reporters the suspect will be extradited to the United States.

Police said he was arrested in Medellin in an operation in which another member of Vargas’s group was killed and several others arrested. He had significantly altered his appearance, they added.

Vargas is “one of the biggest criminals in recent years in Colombia,” Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said, adding that he was behind many of Colombia’s murders in the last decade.

Police said in recent years Vargas had also developed relationships with the Zetas — a cartel behind much of the violence that has gripped Mexico in recent years — to deliver drugs to the United States and Europe.

He is facing charges of conspiracy to murder, forced displacement, extortion and drug trafficking.

Vargas assumed leadership of the Envigado organization after the November 2011 arrest of its previous leader, Maximiliano Bonilla, in Venezuela. Bonilla, known as Valenciano, was extradited to the United States in December 2011.

Based in the northeastern region of Antioquia, the Envigado crime group is considered one of the most potent of Colombia’s drug trafficking organizations.

The group was formed in the 1980s by Pablo Escobar, the notorious leader of the Medellin cartel.

After his death, control of the group passed to the Self-Defense Units of Colombia, a rightwing paramilitary group that was later disbanded as part of a peace process.