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Colombia signs extradition of drug lord to US
( 2001-08-28 10:29 ) (8 )

Colombia's president on Monday authorized the extradition to the United States of Fabio Ochoa, a former henchman of the late drug lord Pablo Escobar who is accused of helping to smuggle cocaine worth $1 billion a month to the United States and Europe.

Ochoa was captured in October 1999 during "Operation Millennium," a joint action by the US Drug Enforcement Administration and Colombian police that smashed a ring officials said exported 30 tonnes of cocaine every month. This had a street value of around $1 billion in the United States and Europe.

Ochoa is also a former leader of the dismantled Medellin drug cartel run by Escobar and is one of a group of drug barons who waged a bloody war against extradition in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the battle cry "better a tomb in Colombia than a cell in the United States."

He was released from prison in 1996 after serving 5 1/2 years for trafficking with the Medellin cartel. He had turned himself in under a government program that allowed traffickers who confessed not to be extradited to the United States.

But authorities say he quickly got back to business.

On Monday, relatives of Ochoa held an news conference in Bogota's central colonial square and said they would appeal the extradition decree signed by President Andres Pastrana. Some 20 children belonging to the Ochoa family wore white T-shirts with pictures of Fabio reading" "My brother is a scapegoat of the United States. He is innocent. He committed no crimes after he surrendered," said brother Juan David, who spent nearly eight years in prison also as a member of the Medellin cartel after turning himself in.

Lawyers said Ochoa's chances of evading US justice are slim. Penalties for drug trafficking in the United States are much harsher than in Colombia. He was indicted in September 1999 on cocaine and money laundering charges by a Florida federal grand jury.

Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio said Colombia had an "international commitment to fighting drug trafficking."

Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine.


The youngest son of a wealthy horse breeder in the city of Medellin, Ochoa launched a legal battle to avoid extradition. He set up a Web site, http" On Monday Ochoa ran an advertising in the leading local daily El Tiempo saying: "I turned myself to justice with the guarantee that I was not going to be extradited. I upheld the deal. I want the state to uphold the deal."

Escobar and his henchmen belonged to a group known as the "Extraditables," who waged a campaign of kidnappings, bombings and assassinations against the government that killed and maimed thousands and traumatized Colombia.

The "Extraditables" forced the government to ban the extradition of Colombian citizens to the United States but the ban was lifted in 1997 under heavy pressure from Washington.

They also inspired Colombia's Nobel-laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to write his book "News of a Kidnapping," a journalistic account of the heyday of the drug wars.

The United States is spending $1 billion in mostly military aid to wipe out vast fields of coca controlled by leftist guerrillas fighting in the country's 37-year-old war. 



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