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Meese Shocked at Release of Drug Baron

From Times Wire Services

Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said Thursday that the release of reputed billionaire drug baron Jorge Luis Ochoa from prison in Colombia was a “shocking blow” to efforts to bring narcotics dealers to justice.

“This action is contrary to specific assurances by the Colombian government at the highest level that Ochoa . . . would remain in custody pending his extradition to the United States,” Meese said.

Meese also said the United States is “evaluating how best to proceed in light of this development.”

Ochoa, 38, walked out the front door of Bogota’s La Picota prison Wednesday night, arm in arm with Warden Alvaro Camacho and accompanied by his attorneys, the daily El Tiempo reported in Bogota.

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In an interview with El Tiempo, Justice Minister Enrique Low Mutra said he had ordered the warden not to free Ochoa.

Judge Ordered Release

The warden said he freed Ochoa because a Bogota judge, Andres Montanez, had issued a writ of habeas corpus ordering his release. Ochoa was serving a 20-month sentence on contraband charges.

Ochoa’s attorney, Humberto Barrera Dominguez, a former Supreme Court justice, said a judge had ruled that Ochoa had already served the time in Spain and awaiting his trial, and should be freed.

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Ochoa’s lawyers and bodyguards sped off into the night to a small private airport on the outskirts of Bogota, a city of 6 million people, and Ochoa boarded a private plane and took off.

A Defeat for Government

Low said the release was a defeat for the government of President Virgilio Barco Vargas in its fight against drug trafficking.

“Shame, Mr. President,” proclaimed the headline in the Bogota daily El Espectador.

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An El Tiempo editorial said: “The Mafia made fun of Colombia again last night.”

It was the second time Ochoa had been freed by a Colombian judge.

Ochoa, considered one of Colombia’s leading drug traffickers, was captured Nov. 23 while driving a car owned by a Honduran diplomat on a road in rural Valle del Cauca province.

U.S. officials then renewed efforts begun in 1984 to extradite Ochoa on allegations that his cocaine syndicate, the Medellin cartel, is responsible for 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States.

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