EZEQUIEL ABIU LOPEZ
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) -- A former senior official in the Dominican military and anti-drug agency on Monday abandoned his bid to fight extradition and agreed to be sent to the United States to face drug trafficking charges.
Francisco Hiraldo, a retired Navy admiral and former chief of operations for the National Drug Control Agency, had previously refused to sign the extradition agreement and vowed to clear his name, hiring a prominent defense lawyer. He did not explain his change of strategy at a hearing of the Supreme Court, which must review requests to extradite citizens of the Dominican Republic.
"I have not received any pressure to go voluntarily," Hiraldo told the court.
His attorney, Ramon Pina, said Monday that he still maintains his innocence and will fight the charges in the United States.
The extradition is expected to take place within days.
He was arrested in October on a still-sealed warrant out of New York City. Dominican authorities have said he is accused of taking payoffs from traffickers to allow more than two dozen shipments of South American cocaine to transit through the Caribbean country from 2001 and 2009.
The Dominican attorney general's office has said he was also paid at least once, in 2008, with a shipment of 700 kilograms (1,543 pounds) of cocaine because he allegedly was able to transport it to the United States independent of the South American cartels and the Dominican drug rings.
The attorney general also said he is also accused of providing protection to former Army Capt. Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo, who was arrested in 2005 while transporting 1,387 kilograms (3,057 pounds) of cocaine and is awaiting trial in the U.S. on drug and money laundering charges.
The Dominican Republic has become a major transit point for South American drugs bound for Europe and the United States, often routed through nearby Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently reported that about 6 percent of the cocaine destined for the United States this year is expected to be shipped through the Dominican Republic.
The U.S. government has praised the Dominican government's anti-drug efforts but the arrest of Hiraldo revealed high-level corruption. He held various positions in the drug-control agency for 14 years, including two as chief of operations, from 2006 to 2008, as well as serving 30 years in the Navy.
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