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Search Yields Results But Not the Main Target

August 27, 1986

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A nationwide search failed to locate alleged cocaine kingpin Jorge Ochoa but resulted in the detention of more than 100 people and the seizure of hundreds of weapons, the Attorney General’s office said Tuesday.

It said thousands of police and soldiers arrested more than 12,000 people, seized 274 weapons, 11 pounds of cocaine, 44 radios and two cocaine processing laboratories in a manhunt that began Friday.

Most of those arrested were released after questioning, but 121 were held, including Victor Mera, the Attorney General’s office said in a statement. Mera has been convicted in the United States of distributing cocaine.

The Attorney General’s office said police and troops raided 234 houses, hotels, offices and ranches.

Officials called the search for Ochoa, who is suspected of controlling 70 percent of the flow of cocaine into the United States, the biggest manhunt ever launched by Colombia.

Ochoa was freed earlier this month by a customs court judge, Fabio Pastrana, despite orders from the Attorney General’s office to hold him for possible extradition to the United States.

Tuesday’s statement said two special prosecutors from the Attorney General’s office have been assigned to investigate Pastrana, and both prosecutors have been threatened with death if they continue the investigation. It was suspected the threats came from drug dealers.

Also under investigation is the policeman who was sent from Bogota to Cartagena with Ochoa for the customs court hearing to make certain that Ochoa was not freed, the statement said.

Ochoa had been living in Spain until last month when he was extradited to Colombia. Both the United States and Colombia had sought his extradition, with America charging him with drug trafficking and Colombia accusing him of smuggling 18 fighting bulls into the country.

Ochoa was held in Bogota in a special cell of the F-2 police, the detective division of the national police, until he was sent to Cartagena to face the smuggling charge.

Pastrana freed Ochoa on $11,500 bail and he immediately disappeared.

The Attorney General’s office said it had instructed the judge to keep Ochoa in custody even after the customs case was settled.

The Justice Ministry said Tuesday that Mera will be extradited to the United States where he has been convicted of drug-trafficking charges.

The U.S. Marshal’s Service in New York announced Sunday that Mera, 32, was captured Saturday in Bogota through information provided by the U.S. agency.

Mera and Severo Escobar were convicted in absentia on July 16, 1984, in New York of being leaders of a drug ring that had distributed tons of cocaine into the United States.

They had been arrested and a New York federal jury indicted them and 11 other defendants on drug charges on Jan. 23, 1984.

A month later, a U.S. judge set their bail at $1 million, but a U.S. marshal observing the proceedings made a wrong notation and the two men were released on their own recognizance and fled the country.

Escobar, 55, was captured in Colombia on Feb. 23, 1985. He was convicted of cocaine distribution and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

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