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Reputed Financial Brains of Colombia’s Medellin Cartel Appears in U

September 8, 1989

Reputed Financial Brains of Colombia’s Medellin Cartel Appears in U.S. Court With PM-Colombia, Bjt

ATLANTA (AP) _ The man accused of being the brains behind the Medellin cocaine cartel’s laundering of money in U.S. banks is getting a crash course in American-style justice from his lawyer.

Eduardo Martinez Romero - on the U.S. list of so-called ″Extraditables,″ Colombia’s most important drug kingpins - was being held without bond at an undisclosed, highly secure location as he awaits his day in court.

At a preliminary hearing Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Joel M. Feldman, Martinez said through an interpreter that he understands very little English and doesn’t fully comprehend what is happening to him.

″At this time, I do not understand the charges I am accused of. We would like to have sufficient time to see what they deal with,″ Martinez said.

Feldman agreed to delay his arraignment until Monday morning.

An affidavit filed in court Thursday by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Albert D. Latson said Martinez warned an Atlanta undercover drug agent last year that he would be ″kidnapped and interrogated″ if anything went wrong with their laundering ventures for the Medellin cartel.

The affidavit said that during January 1988 meetings in Panama City, Panama, Martinez told agent Caesar Diaz ″in an angry voice ... that if anything goes wrong with his customer’s money, the first thing ‘they’ do is question Mr. Martinez.″

″Mr. Martinez said he would disclose his contacts,″ the affidavit said. ″Each person would be kidnapped and interrogated. If the answers were not satisfactory, then ‘they’ would retaliate.″

Martinez, 36, appeared tired and somewhat distracted during the hearing. Security at the courthouse was unremarkable, despite the wave of bombings associated with the Colombian government’s crackdown on drugs, which resulted in Martinez’s arrest in August. Martinez was not handcuffed or shackled.

Martinez’s lawyer, Ed Garland, said his client was ″very frightened and quiet″ when he was brought to court.

″I think it will be extremely difficult for him to get a fair trial,″ Garland said. ″My understanding is that he wasn’t afforded any judicial process. He was just picked up and brought here.″

U.S. Attorney Robert Barr, whose office is prosecuting the Martinez case, said today that the reputed kingpin would be fairly treated.

″We’re confident that Mr. Martinez will not only get a fair trial, but will receive all of the guarantees under our laws and our Constitution, as would any defendant,″ Barr said on NBC’s ″Today″ show.

″All of these issues, if there are issues, of pretrial publicity, I’m sure will be brought out in court and be fully aired. But we’re confident of our case,″ Barr said.

Martinez was brought to Atlanta before sunrise aboard a DEA plane. He was then shuttled downtown to the federal courthouse aboard a helicopter.

Martinez, who told the judge he holds a postgraduate degree in marketing, is accused of laundering up to $27 million in drug profits by funneling the cash through U.S. banks.

He was indicted in March in Atlanta as a result of an investigation code- named Operation Polar Cap, which officials said revealed an operation that laundered billions in cocaine profits. Charges were brought against 127 people and two Latin American banks.

Martinez, called by some the ″finance minister″ of the Medellin cartel, is the first person extradited to the United States since Colombia’s crackdown began last month. He was arrested Aug. 20. A previous attempt to arrest him in Panama failed last March.

Garland told reporters after the hearing that President Bush’s speech Tuesday vowing a war on drugs may whip public opinion into such a frenzy that Martinez cannot obtain a fair trial in Atlanta.

″The speech probably expressed accurately the feeling of the American people,″ said Garland, a defense lawyer in Atlanta for 25 years. ″My concern is that in our frustration over the drug problem, we will ignore our other freedoms. He, like anyone else in our country, should be presumed innocent.″