Medellin Drug Kingpin Fabio Ochoa Surrenders to Authorities
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ The youngest of three brothers who allegedly help run the Medellin cocaine cartel surrendered Tuesday under a government offer not to extradite drug trafficking suspects, officials said.
Fabio Ochoa Vasquez became the first cartel leader to turn himself in under the 3 1/2 -month-old offer, which also promises reduced jail sentences for drug suspects who surrender and confess.
The U.S. extradition request for Ochoa alleges he led the cartel’s cocaine distribution center in Miami. He is also accused of participating in the 1986 murder of Adler ″Barry″ Seal, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant whose testimony helped indict several leading traffickers.
″The government is very satisfied that decree 2047 is having all the effects it should have in Colombian life,″ President Cesar Gaviria said, speaking over the Caracol radio network, after the surrender was announced.
Justice Minister Jaime Giraldo confirmed the surrender and said, ″We hope that they all turn themselves in.″
In the past month, four mid-level drug traffickers surrendered.
Ochoa left a communique with family members explaining his decision.
″I hope this contributes in the best way to peace and understanding in Colombia,″ Ochoa said in the statement read over local radio.
A communique from the Ochoa family said the drug lord surrendered to a court official at a church 12 miles south of Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city and home base to the world’s most violent cocaine cartel.
Ochoa will have to confess at least one of his crimes if he is to avoid extradition.
Further legal guarantees were offered in another presidential decree Monday, including human rights safeguards for surrendering traffickers.
Ochoa, 33, has been named in three federal indictments in the United States, and was cited by Attorney General Dick Thornburgh as one of the ″Dozen Most Wanted″ Colombia drug defendants in August 1989.
He allegedly helped run the cartel with his brothers Jorge Luis and Juan David.
″My brother decided to turn himself in to Colombian justice because he believes in it,″ said Marta Nieves, Ochoa’s sister, speaking on the RCN radio station.
She added that the family plans to release a videotape of Ochoa surrendering in Caldas.
Jaime Cordoba, human rights director at the attorney general’s office, said that rights delegates will be appointed to oversee Ochoa’s case.
Radio reports said Ochoa was taken to a maximum-security prison near Medellin.
In late November, the Medellin drug bosses said as many as 300 traffickers were willing to surrender in return for government guarantees they will not be extradited to the United States and not be treated as common criminals.
Ochoa was named in a 1986 federal indictment in Baton Rouge, La., linking him to the slaying of Seal. The same year, he was indicted on drug trafficking-related charges in Miami.
In 1989, he was also named along with his brother Jorge Luis Ochoa and cartel leaders Pablo Escobar and the late Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha in an 11- count indictment in Jacksonville, Fla., that grew out of the successful drug trafficking prosecution of Carlos Lehder Rivas.
Escobar, reputedly the cartel chief, remains at large. It was not clear if Ochoa’s brothers were also preparing to surrender.
The Medellin cartel has been blamed for killing 550 Colombians since the government and traffickers declared war on each other 16 months ago.
Thousands of others have been killed in gang violence and score-settling in the drug trade.
The cartel has released four of nine journalists it kidnapped recently.
The cartel said earlier the kidnappings were a response to rights abuses by police in Medellin. They were also apparently trying to pressure the Gaviria administration to grant pardons.