Two Suspected Colombian Drug Traffickers Extradited to U.S.
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Two suspected Colombian drug traffickers were extradited to the United States on Tuesday, the first such extraditions since President Cesar Gaviria took office last month.
Jose Hilario Ortiz and Raul Hernan Buchelli, who both face drug trafficking charges in the United States, were placed on board a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plane bound for Miami, national police chief Gen. Miguel Gomez said in remarks broadcast by the RCN radio network.
Ortiz faces drug trafficking charges in Connecticut and Buchelli is wanted in Florida, said a police spokesman, requesting anonymity. No further details were immediately available.
Buchelli is wanted on charges of conspiracy to smuggle and distribute heroin and money laundering, while Ortiz pleaded guilty to a cocaine trafficking conspiracy charge and fled the country before sentencing, according to U.S. court records.
Buchelli’s brother, Guido Lucio, also faces drug trafficking charges in the United States. But he was released last week after the government rejected a U.S. request for his extradition, citing insufficient evidence.
Colombia has extradited 24 suspected drug traffickers to the United States since August 1989, when the government launched a major anti-drug crackdown after the murder of a presidential candidate.
Twelve of those extradited have either been convicted at trial or pleaded guilty; one was acquitted. An additional nine are awaiting trial.
The crackdown prompted the Medellin cocaine cartel to declare ″total war″ on the government a year ago.
Tuesday’s extraditions were the first of suspected drug traffickers to the United States since Gaviria was inaugurated Aug. 7. He has pledged to continue the war against the cocaine cartels waged by his predecessor, Virgilio Barco.
Last Wednesday, Gaviria modified the country’s extradition policy.
In a nationally televised speech, Gaviria said drug traffickers who turn themselves in and confess their crimes would be tried in Colombia and not face extradition to the United States.
Under the decree announced by Gaviria, Colombian judges would be also empowered to impose shorter sentences for suspects who confess and cooperate with local investigations.
The country’s drug barons have so far offered no reply to Gaviria’s offer.
Gaviria’s offer appeared to be, at least in part, a response to repeated offers from the drug traffickers to surrender to Colombian judges in return for a promise to end the extraditions that had been resumed last year by Barco.
The drug traffickers have feared extradition to the United States because they would have little influence over the judicial process there. Cocaine cartel members have traditionally been able to either bribe or threaten their way out of Colombian jails. Judges who refuse to be intimidated have often been slain.
In his speech last week, Gaviria announced that three Colombians would soon be extradited to the United States, but he said three other U.S. extradition requests had been turned down.
The third suspect set to be extradited, Joaquin Oswaldo Gallo Chamorro, was still being held in Colombia on Tuesday. Authorities did not say why he was not sent to the United States with Ortiz and Buchelli.
With the latest extraditions, the U.S. Justice Department is still seeking to extradite 14 suspected drug traffickers held in Colombia.
Colombia’s Cali and Medellin drug cartels supply most of the cocaine consumed in the United States and Europe. Authorities blame the Medellin for killing about 550 Colombians the past year, including three presidential candidates.