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Colombia Investigates Judges in Jailing of Drug Dealer

September 8, 1989

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Three judges were being investigated today on charges that they acted illegally when they ordered a drug dealer back to jail, officials said.

Also today, the army said it had arrested a pilot who worked for Pablo Escobar, the alleged leader of the Medellin cocaine cartel who is wanted in the United States and who is now in hiding.

Officials in the attorney general’s office, speaking on condition of anonymity, showed reporters documents charging that three appeals court judges in Pereira western Colombia erred Sept. 1 when they revoked the parole of Carlos Fernando Castrillon.

Castrillon had been convicted of drug charges and sentenced to a year in jail. A lower court judge, following a Colombian law that allows immediate parole in sentences of less than three years, released Castrillon.

The appeals court ordered Castrillon to return to jail but had no legal basis for doing so, the attorney general said. Castrillon remains free.

A communique from the 4th Army Brigade in Medellin, said to be the world’s No. 1 cocaine center, said it arrested Nicolas Gonzalez Cardona. It described him as ″a pilot in the service of narcotics trafficker Pablo Escobar, making international flights on one of the Medellin Cartel’s main routes for distributing alkaloid (cocaine) between Colombia and the cities of Miami and New York, among others.″

Gonzales was arrested in a roundup after the Aug. 17 assassination of Col. Valdemar Francklin Quintero, Medellin’s top police official, the communique said.

Escobar, who leads the United States’ most-wanted list of Colombian traffickers, is said to head a $3 billion worldwide cocaine empire. The government of Colombia has offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Terrorists continued attacks in Medellin today, bombing a branch of a government farm bank on the outskirts of the city. ″It wasn’t a big bomb,″ a police spokeswoman said. ″It blew out the door and some windows. No one was hurt,″ she said.

A poll conducted by a Bogota daily and a radio station, meanwhile, showed that more Colombians favor extraditing suspected traffickers to the United States than last year.

The poll by El Tiempo and the Caracol radio station showed that 62 percent of Colombians favor extradition and 36 percent oppose it. Last year in the same poll, 65 percent of Colombians opposed extradition.

Questioned in the poll were 612 persons from Colombia’s four largest cities, Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla. The margin of error was not available, and it was not clear how representative the results were.

On Wednesday, Eduardo Martinez Romero, an economist alleged to be the money launderer for the Medellin drug cartel, was flown to Atlanta. He will be tried on charges of laundering $27 million worth of illicit cocaine cash.

A Justice Department spokesman said in Washington that U.S. attorneys are preparing extradition requests for the 12 most-wanted Colombian drug traffickers.

President Virgilio Barco was dealt a setback in his war on drugs Thursday when public outrage forced him to back off from imposing military rule on two cities believed to be strongholds of cocaine traffickers.

Barco replaced the mayors of the cities with military officers, but rescinded the orders in the face of charges the action was unconstitutional and anti-democratic.

Also Thursday, one person was killed and at least seven others were injured in nationwide violence.

In Medellin, headquarters of the powerful Medellin cocaine cartel, two policemen were slightly injured when bombs placed under a table destroyed a fast-food restaurant in a busy pedestrian mall.

Classes at the National University of Bogota were suspended for the day after skirmishes broke out during a demonstration by about 500 students protesting U.S. aid to help Colombia fight its war on drugs.

The students shouted ″Gringos go home″ and burned an American flag. Groups of youths with white hoods on their heads flung firecrackers at police and two students were injured in scuffles.

Also in the capital, gunmen in a speeding car killed cattle rancher Jaime Castillo Franco and wounded his driver. Flying glass injured two bystanders, a woman and her daughter.

It was not known if the slaying was related to the government’s anti-drug war, which began Aug. 18 when assassins believed to be paid by the cocaine traffickers killed the front-running presidential candidate, Sen. Luis Carlos Galan, a strong foe of drug dealing.

Under emergency measures imposed by Barco, authorities have seized millions of dollars in real estate and other property believed to belong to the drug lords. The president also revived Colombia’s extradition treaty with the United States, where many of the leading traffickers face charges.

Although the crackdown is believed to have practically paralyzed cocaine production, there is fear of more bombings and other terrorist attacks.

The drug lords have said they would rather die in Colombia than inside American prisons and have vowed to kill 10 judges for every drug suspect extradited.

On Thursday, more Americans were reported leaving. They included 20 families of employees of U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum Co., a source said on condition of anonymity. He said they left Wednesday night.

Update hourly