Archive for Saturday, September 8, 2001

Suspected drug kingpin to face U.S. prosecution

September 8, 2001

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— Alleged drug kingpin Fabio Ochoa was flown Friday night to the United States to face prosecution, the highest-profile suspect extradited from Colombia in more than a decade, a senior U.S. official said.

Ochoa, a former top leader of the notorious Medellin cartel, was escorted aboard a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plane.

His handover was a victory for U.S. officials for who have long sought the extradition of Colombian drug lords who are flooding the United States with cocaine and heroin.

"He's on the plane. He's on his way," the U.S. official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The move comes four days before Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Bogota to discuss anti-drug efforts with President Andres Pastrana, who signed Ochoa's extradition papers. Pastrana himself was kidnapped by the Medellin cartel in January 1988 when he was running for mayor of Bogota.

Ochoa faces a federal indictment from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., alleging he was part of a gang that exported 30 tons of cocaine a month to the United States.

Judge Claudia Merchan had suspended the extradition on Aug. 31 on a request from Ochoa's lawyer but ruled Friday that there were no irregularities in Ochoa's extradition that would threaten his rights.

In 1990, Ochoa was the first major Colombian trafficker to surrender in return for a promise that he would not be extradited. But U.S. prosecutors seeking his extradition say Ochoa resumed trafficking cocaine after leaving a Colombian jail in 1996.

Ochoa was arrested in October 1999.

Under the Medellin cartel's pressure, extradition was declared unconstitutional in 1991. Colombia reinstated extradition in December 1997 at the request of the United States.

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