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Heroin Found On Plane Scandal-Plagued President Is Flying To New York

September 21, 1996

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ More than eight pounds of heroin were found on the jet President Ernesto Samper was to fly today to New York, where he is to address the U.N. General Assembly on a global anti-drug strategy.

The heroin was discovered by drug-sniffing dogs after the air force received an anonymous telephone tip on Friday, said Gen. Hector Hernan Gil Nieto, the air force commander.

The drug was hidden in six packets behind paneling in a luggage compartment of the Boeing 707 and in eight packets in the cockpit well where radios are located, Gil Nieto said.

Justice Minister Carlos Medellin said at a predawn news conference today that the drug’s placement could have been a plot to embarrass Samper. He said the president had no intention of canceling the trip.

``There is clearly an intent to hurt the president,″ Medellin said.

The State Department stripped Samper of his U.S. tourist visa in July after a highly partisan Colombian Congress cleared him of charges he solicited $6 million in 1994 campaign contributions from druglords.

Samper is traveling to New York on a diplomatic visa.

Medellin said that if drug traffickers did indeed plant the heroin on Samper’s plane, it only proves that government efforts to stem the flow of narcotics out of Colombia are successful.

``If criminal organizations are trying to damage the image of the government, of the president and Colombia, that means that yes, they are suffering blows and the government is acting effectively against them,″ he said.

Had the heroin been discovered in the United States, Medellin noted, ``the implications would have been very severe, disastrous.″

The airplane, which is maintained by the air force, made a test flight on Friday and air force intelligence received the tip afterward without being told exactly what illegal narcotic might be on board, Gil Nieto said.

More than 80 percent of the cocaine and a rapidly growing amount of heroin on the U.S. market are processed in Colombia.

The national police director, Gen. Jose Serrano, said its possible just one or two members of the air force were trying to smuggle the heroin to New York. ``There is very much a boom in heroin right now,″ he said.

Cocaine and heroin are routinely confiscated by Colombian police in airplanes and in the luggage of people departing the country.