‘Faceless’ Judge Sentences Cali Drug Lord to 23 Years

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Cocaine kingpin Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, who was handed an extremely light prison sentence for crimes he confessed to last month, has been sentenced to 23 years in jail for a drug shipment he failed to own up to, local media sources here said Sunday.

Radio and television reports said the sentence was handed down Saturday by a “faceless” judge in Bogota who was reported to have been offered a $1-million bribe to let Rodriguez off the hook.

Rodriguez and his brother Gilberto are the leaders of the Cali cartel, which once controlled up to 80% of the world’s cocaine trade.

A Cali judge sentenced the brothers to light sentences last month that could have seen them freed in as few as five years--because they confessed to certain crimes and because an elaborate plea-bargaining system would cut their assigned prison time substantially.


The 23-year sentence handed down Saturday means that Miguel Rodriguez will serve at least 15 years in prison, however, because it involved a case he repeatedly refused to accept the blame for.

The case involves 330 pounds of cocaine that were smuggled through Costa Rica to Tampa, Fla., in 1989.

Colombia has special tribunals of anonymous judges as a security measure to protect them from assassination attempts or intimidation by criminal drug gangs.

The longer jail term for the notorious narcotics trafficker comes a week before President Clinton must certify whether Colombia has been a cooperative partner in the war against drugs.


Colombia was decertified last year--making this country ineligible for a broad range of aid--and several members of Congress, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have been pressuring to reinforce the decertification with economic sanctions that would affect legitimate businesses.

Colombia has tried to avoid economic penalties by passing a law making it easier for the government to confiscate drug dealers’ property and signing a maritime treaty that allows the United States to inspect Colombian boats in international waters.