Juan Carlos Niño, 59, is a forerunner of the circle of narco-pilots of the Eastern Plains that mobilizes drugs for the Sinaloa cartel and who also transported Iván Duque and Álvaro Uribe on flights during their electoral campaigns that were not recorded in official expenses. That leader of the air drug trafficking of the Llanos was convicted in the United States, in November 2015, accused by the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, who shortly after would be President Barack Obama's Attorney General.
The conviction against Juan Carlos Niño was for international conspiracy and distribution of cocaine. It is registered in the Department of Justice with code 65849-053, corresponding to process 11-CR-748. The punishment imposed by the Federal Court was 60 months in prison. The sentence has an aggravating factor: "bribery of a law enforcement officer."
The prosecutor's investigation succeeded in verifying that Juan Carlos Niño was trafficking cocaine from 2004 to 2011, when the investigation was closed with sufficient evidence to bring him to trial.
Loretta Elizabeth Lynch was the 83rd Attorney General of the United States, between 2015 and 2017.
Juan Carlos Niño "also worked for Los Rastrojos, at least that is what another case says," in which Oscar Romero Latorre, also from Colombia, is mentioned as his accomplice, a close source to the FBI told to La Nueva Prensa
Los Rastrojos is a group of far-right paramilitary drug traffickers and hitmen that demobilized in 2006 and reappeared in 2019 on the border of Colombia and Venezuela, in the part where the department of Norte de Santander and the Venezuelan state of Táchira border. This criminal organization was the one that escorted the self-proclaimed interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, to cross the border with Colombia and attend a concert, in Cúcuta, organized by Iván Duque with the purpose of repudiating the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro, on February 22nd, 2019. Once he had served the sentence that was imposed in New York, Juan Carlos Niño returned to Colombia and rejoined his activities in the Eastern Plains. On May 6th, 2020, he was summoned, along with other five pilots, by the former provincial beauty queen and president of the House of Representatives, Jennifer Arias, 34, with the purpose of devising a way to resume the flights of the small and dark airlines in the eastern part of the country, since they had been stucked for two months due to the national lockdown caused by the Covid pandemic at that moment.
The narco-pilot Juan Carlos Niño intervened in the meeting to clarify that the crisis in his circle was not exactly due to Covid, and demanded reciprocity from the government, which he supports and supported in the past elections.
"Unfortunately for this union," said Niño, "the issue is not only because of the Covid crisis. We have been too bad, too bad from long time ago. I have a lot of faith in the president, I trust him a lot, not only did I vote for him, I trust a lot in President Duque."
"The concessionaires are looking at how they initiate judicial processes against us to charge us through legal coercion," Niño concluded.
Jennifer Arias, replied: "The reason for this meeting is basically because I wanted to know what proposals we can make to the government through me, through my party, regarding the situation you are experiencing."
The following June 25th, there was another meeting of a higher level and with the same purposes. Álvaro Uribe and a good part of his party (Centro Democrático) in Congress were there, including Jennifer Arias.
At that meeting, Senator Paola Holguín (daughter of Frank Holguín Ortiz, front man of drug trafficker Pablo Escobar) proposed that the Plains airlines resume operations under the figure of "humanitarian flights." This political rally was moderated by Nubia Stella Martínez, director of Uribe's party, Centro Democrático. At that meeting, Uribe states: “One of the first interventions was by our colleague Jennifer Arias, who expressed all the problems of the Eastern Plains. They express everything that Colombia requires from aviation”.
The proposed "humanitarian flights" were authorized by the national government through the Civil Aeronautics and the Ministry of Transport. Under this figure, the transport of cocaine from eastern Colombia was resumed, dammed by the pandemic like other national economic activities, legal and illegal.
The strategy of “humanitarian flights” has the extraordinary advantage that they are not searched carefully by the authorities to respect supposed inviolable biosecurity standards.
Jennifer Arias was the coordinator in the departments of Guaviare and Vaupés of the electoral campaign of the current president of Colombia, Iván Duque, in 2018. In the exercise of these political functions, she was transported by the pilot Samuel Niño Cataño, nephew of the aforementioned ex-convict Juan Carlos Niño.
Samuel Niño Cataño died at the age of 32, in December 2019, on the border of Guatemala and Mexico, when the plane he was piloting with a cocaine shipment fell to the ground. He had been the official pilot of the last electoral campaigns of Álvaro Uribe to the Senate (for which, in addition, he donated 20 million pesos) and of Duque to the presidency of Colombia.
Jennifer Arias was the girlfriend of Hernán Gómez Niño, Álvaro Uribe's former candidate for the Interior of Meta (Colombian department located in Easter Plains). The latter was the brother of the late Samuel Niño Cataño, and nephew of the ex-convict Juan Carlos Niño.
A pilot brother of Jennifer Arias, Andrés Eduardo Arias Ochoa, alias “Fosforito”, was also convicted in 2008, in Miami, United States, for drug trafficking.
Jennifer Arias was imposed on July 20th by Uribe Vélez as president of the House of Representatives, a position in which she will remain until the same date next year.
Uribe Vélez was director of the Aeronáutica Civil (government office) between January 1980 and August 1982. During his administration, the Medellín Cartel, which at that time brought together all the drug traffickers in Colombia, had the largest growth in its history due to the number of runways and operating license plates for airplanes that he granted to that criminal organization, to the point that it became the largest of its kind in the world.
According to her management reports, congresswoman Jennifer Arias declares that she has acted “as a representative of the pilots of the Plains, organizing meetings between them with the former president and former senator Uribe, with the Centro Democrático party, its directors and other congressmen, and making contacts with the national government, especially with the Civil Aeronautics and the Ministry of Transport, to favor the interests of these companies and pilots, achieving those 'humanitarian flights' get authorized by the government”.
During the June 2020 meeting, Senator Paola Holguín stated: “I believe that our task today is to sensitize Colombians and local authorities about something that was said here to be fundamental: the pilots started three months ago when we started the humanitarian flights, I think that we have to put a lot of emphasis on that, to give a piece of tranquility to local leaders and citizens”.
The mainstay of the drug trafficking operations of the Eastern Plains companies and pilots, represented by Jennifer Arias, according to herself, has been the Llanera de Aviación company, which has been changing its name since the United States convicted Juan Carlos Niño, because he made denunciations to gain judicial advantages.
The Romero Latorre, mentioned in United States files as cronies of Juan Carlos Niño and Los Rastrojos, are part of a clan that has been managing helicopter operations from Colombia that, like the Llanera de Aviación airplanes, were at the service of the last electoral campaigns of Álvaro Uribe and Iván Duque.
Llanera de Aviación, under the name NATIV AIR SAS since March 2021, is based at the Guaymaral airport, from where the plane that fell on May 23 on the island of Providencia with half a ton of cocaine took off. It was piloted by Juan Camilo Cadena Botero, who also provided air transportation to Alvaro Uribe during his Senate’s campaign. He was traveling with the Llanera de Aviación technician, Harold Darío Rivera Toledo, who worked for Ivan Duque presidential campaign’s flights.
In fact, La Nueva Prensa has an exclusive video of Iván Duque trying to fly one of the Romero Latorre’s helicopters. This topic will be exposed in the next installment of this investigative journalism series.