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Medellin Cartel Leader Released From Prison

July 28, 1996

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A leader of the Medellin drug cartel, once the most violent and dominant cocaine syndicate, was released from prison Sunday after serving about two-thirds of his sentence.

The release of Juan David Ochoa, 48, comes amid tense relations with the United States over the Colombian Congress’ decision last month to absolve President Ernesto Samper of drug corruption charges.

U.S. officials were further angered when Ochoa’s brother, Jorge Luis, once the No. 2 man in the Medellin cartel, was freed earlier this month after serving 5 1/2 years of his 8 1/4-year drug trafficking sentence.

A third brother, Fabio, remains in prison serving an 8 1/4-year sentence for similar crimes but could be released later this year.

Juan David Ochoa, the oldest of the three brothers, left Itagui prison on the outskirts of Medellin on Sunday morning, said Miller Rubio, a spokesman for the national prison system. Ochoa, who served 5 1/2 years of a 7 3/4-year term, was met by family members and whisked away in a Toyota car, Rubio said.

Together with slain drug lord Pablo Escobar, the three brothers ran the violent Medellin cartel. During the 1980s and early 1990s the cartel controlled most of the world’s cocaine trade, waging a war of terror against the government that left thousands dead.

The brothers surrendered to authorities in 1991 in return for lighter sentences under a law that allows criminals to reduce their sentences if they confess and cooperate with authorities.

U.S. officials have criticized the law and requested that Colombia extradite traffickers to the United States, where they face life sentences. Colombia’s 1991 constitution bans extradition of its citizens.

After Escobar was killed by government forces in January 1993, many Medellin traffickers teamed up with the Cali cartel, most of whose top leaders have been arrested in the past year. U.S. officials say Cali traffickers continue to do business from jail.

Despite Samper’s exoneration, Washington revoked his visa on July 11, saying the evidence suggests he took $6 million in campaign contributions in 1994 from the Cali cartel.