Kingpin's arrest won't halt drugs to Aust

The arrest of Mexican cocaine king Joaquin Guzman will lead to a small, temporary hike in Australian cocaine prices, says a former high-ranking US agent.

At just 168cm tall, Mexican drug baron Joaquin Guzman goes by the nickname "El Chapo". That's Shorty in Spanish but there is nothing small about his ruthless, multi-billion dollar empire that stretches all the way to Australia.

Guzman, on the run since 1993 after escaping from maximum security prison in a laundry cart, was captured by masked Mexican marines and US federal agents in a dawn raid on Saturday in a condominium in the seaside Mexican resort town of Mazatlan.

His Sinaloa cartel is such an efficient global drug importation business, with estimated annual revenues of $US3 billion ($A3.34 billion), Forbes magazine last year named him 67th most powerful person in the world, ahead of many leaders, including Australia's prime minister.

The billions, however, have come at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.

In constant turf war battles with rival cartels including the Zetas, kidnappings and beheadings have become common across South America, while many more victims around the world are left addicted to the drugs he peddled by the tonne.

"He was the Al Capone of the drug world," Robert Stutman, the former head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) New York office, told AAP.

Like other legitimate businessman running global companies, 56-year-old Guzman saw Australia as a growth market.

When other nations were hit by the recession, Australia, came through largely unscathed and its strong dollar against other global currencies made the reward of importing tonnes of cocaine across the vast Pacific Ocean well worth the risk.

A kilogram of cocaine in Colombia, where the cartel produces most of its product, is worth about $A2100.

In the US the same kilo is worth about $A30,000. In Australia, it reaps close to $A150,000.

Rodney G. Benson, the DEA's chief of intelligence, in testimony to two US House of Representative subcommittees, named Guzman's Sinaloa cartel as having the broadest reach of supplying drugs to Australia, Europe and Asia.

The Australian Crime Commission has also noted "Mexican criminals have become more prevalent as principals in the importation and supply of cocaine and associated money laundering" in Australia.

Guzman's cartel transports multi-tonne cargoes of cocaine, sometimes in Boeing 747s and submarines, from Colombia to Mexico.

From Mexico it is distributed around the world.

Next month, Juan Mares-Barragan, 32, will be sentenced in an Illinois court after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to knowingly and intentionally possess with intent to distribute 5kg or more of cocaine.

Mares-Barragan was arrested by the DEA last year using undercover informants.

He was co-head of a Chicago-based drug trafficking organisation, with links to the Sinaloa cartel, that boasted about how it flew cocaine in private planes to Australia and on the return leg carried "millions of dollars per month" in cash back to the US.

"Initially Mares-Barragan told the UC (undercover agent) he was interested in having the UC transport, via airplane, between 1000 and 1500 kilograms of cocaine from South America to Australia," the plea agreement signed by Mares-Barragan states.

Mares-Barragan has asked to be sentenced to four years' jail, but faces a potential maximum term of life and a $US10 million fine.

While Mr Stutman applauded Guzman's arrest, he said statistics show authorities "can't arrest their way out of the drug problem".

"In the US between 1992 and 2007 drug abuse went up almost more than 100 per cent and drug arrests went up by 100 per cent, so clearly doubling arrests did not help the drug problem," the former high-ranking DEA agent, who now tours the world as a public speaker, said.

Mr Stutman said there would not be much of an impact on the global drug market with Guzman behind bars.

Guzman's longtime partner Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, who has had growing influence within the Sinaloa cartel, is expected to take full charge.

"The bigger question is what impact will this have on the availability of cocaine in Australia, Europe or the US and my answer is, probably, if measurable at all, very small," Mr Stutman said.

Cocaine availability might fall a little and "we might see prices rise a little bit".

"Do I think there will be a shortage of product?" Mr Stutman asked.

"No. It will just cost you a little more to get high."

Source: AAP

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