Hello Kitty used as drug lord's messenger: report
SAO PAULO, March 10, 2008 (AFP) — Hello Kitty, the Japanese cartoon figure popular with teenagers around the world, was used by a notorious Colombian drug lord to hide messages to his minions, according to a report Monday.
Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, who is being held in Brazil after his arrest in August, hid voice and text messages digitally encoded into e-mailed images of the innocent feline, Brazilian police told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.
Investigators say the disguised missives, hundreds of which were found on Abadia's computer, could put the narcotics kingpin up to his neck in Kitty litter as some of them allegedly detail cocaine shipments between countries.
The newspaper said the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) broke the binary code containing the messages under the Hello Kitty images because Brazilian police lacked the necessary computer equipment.
It added the same technique of hiding messages in seemingly innocuous image files was used by Al-Qaeda to prepare the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Abadia apparently picked Hello Kitty as his courier because his wife was a big fan of the Japanese icon -- she had even decorated one of her rooms in a Brazilian house with Hello Kitty-themed chairs, watches and wallpaper.
Abadia, 44, is currently the subject of extradition proceedings requested by the United States, which wants to try him on drug trafficking, money-laundering and murder charges.
The Colombian, who has previously been convicted in his own country for trafficking, is suspected to have headed the ultraviolent Valle del Norte cartel.
He is being kept in a high-security prison pending the verdict by Brazil's supreme court on the US extradition request.
The DEA estimates that Abadia accumulated a personal fortune of 1.8 billion dollars from his illicit activities, which it says involved sending tons of cocaine and kilos of heroin to California through Mexico.