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Colombian Question: Are Jailed Drug Bosses Still in Business?

April 8, 1991

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Police and Colombian newspapers have accused the Ochoa brothers of directing their multimillion-dollar cocaine business from jail cells, but the justice minister said Monday such accusations were unproven.

The accusations arose after police raided two ranches where 11 tons of pure cocaine were seized. The nation’s police chief, Gen. Miguel Gomez Padilla, last week accused the Ochoas of owning the ranches.

The Ochoas - Jorge Luis, Juan David and Fabio - are now awaiting trial in a Medellin jail after surrendering to authorities. They have denied the accusations, charges that also have been made by a senior Colombian official and an American official familiar with anti-drug efforts.

Justice Minister Jaime Giraldo, speaking over the RCN radio network, said the accusations are ″mere theoretical speculations that constitute no proof.″

The Ochoas, self-professed executives in a branch of the Medellin cartel, gave themselves up under a plan by President Cesar Gaviria that offers drug suspects reduced jail sentences and a guarantee of no U.S. extradition in exchange for their surrender.

Gaviria began the plan in an effort to end widespread violence that began in August 1988, when gunmen paid by traffickers killed Sen. Luis Carlos Galan, an anti-drug crusader and leading presidential contender.

In a statement issued from their jail cells, the Ochoas said Gen. Gomez Padilla’s accusation was aimed at trying to torpedo the government’s lenient anti-drug strategy.

However, another senior Colombian police officer and a U.S. official familiar with narcotics matters both expressed doubts over the efficacy of the anti-drug plan.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they told The Associated Press last week that they were convinced that the Ochoas were still exporting cocaine.

The U.S. official said the Ochoa organization’s daily operations are run by underlings who need little supervision but who nevertheless hand over most of the profits to their bosses.

″The Ochoas are still involved in the big decisions,″ the official said. ″They have every opportunity to consult with their people visiting the prison.″

In an editorial Sunday, Bogota’s El Espectador newspaper criticized the prison itself.

″This institution is a site, not for the retention of known and confessed criminals, but for the protection of their continued unlawful acts,″ reads the editorial, titled ″Between impunity and terror.″

Gaviria introduced his anti-drug program in September in an effort to convince traffickers to abandon both their business and terrorist attacks.

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