A Medellin cartel leader wanted in the United States on murder and cocaine distribution charges turned himself in to Colombian authorities Tuesday as part of an unprecedented peace process between the government and cocaine bosses.
Fabio Ochoa, 33, the youngest of three brothers who run the cartel together with Pablo Escobar, surrendered to authorities in a church just south of Medellin. Although four middle-level drug bosses have turned themselves in, Ochoa is the first of the cartel’s top leaders to do so.
Ochoa said he was surrendering under two government decrees offering drug traffickers lenient judicial treatment, including a promise of no extradition to the United States.
In order to receive the government benefits, Ochoa must confess to at least one crime, according to the government’s decrees.
Justice Minister Jaime Giraldo Angel told reporters late Tuesday that he did not know what crime Ochoa had confessed. Although there were no indications Tuesday that the cartel’s other leaders would follow Ochoa’s lead, Giraldo said the government believes that they will.
Ochoa’s public statement, which referred to his surrender as an “independent act,” indicated that the other cartel leaders may ask for more government concessions before surrendering. Ochoa said that the two decrees offering lenient treatment are “a long way off from satisfying the expectations raised by the government.”
Fabio Ochoa and his brothers, Juan David and Jorge Luis, first expressed interest in turning themselves in after President Cesar Gaviria eased the government’s inflexible crackdown on cocaine traffickers.
In a Sept. 5 decree, Gaviria offered surrendering suspects guarantees that they would not be extradited and would receive reduced prison sentences if they confessed to their crimes and cooperated with authorities.
After the cartel indicated interest but asked for more guarantees, Gaviria responded with a second decree, issued Monday, that guarantees no extradition for any trafficker confessing even one crime punishable by imprisonment. The decree also met two other cartel demands by designating a government delegate to protect traffickers’ rights and by stipulating that the suspects would be placed in special jails.
In their extradition request for Ochoa, U.S. authorities accuse him of distributing cocaine and ordering the 1986 assassination of Barry Seal, an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Along with his brothers, he is on the U.S. attorney general’s list of the dozen most-wanted Colombian drug figures.
Authorities say Ochoa personally arranged the importation of tons of cartel cocaine into the United States when he managed the organization’s Miami distribution network.
He was indicted in Baton Rouge, La., in 1986 for taking part in a murder for hire, conspiracy to violate civil rights and obstruction of justice. In Miami, he faces 1986 charges of a racketeering conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cocaine. In Tampa, Fla., he was indicted last year for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it, engaging in a criminal enterprise, interstate travel in aid of racketeering and use of force to influence others.
The cartel is also accused of masterminding a terrorist campaign that killed hundreds of Colombians in 1989 and early 1990. In recent months, it has kidnaped 10 people.
Ochoa could be tried on charges other than the one to which he confesses, but he could receive a prison term of no more than 30 years, according to the government decrees.
Times staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow in Washington contributed to this article.