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Colombia Agrees to Extradition

November 11, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Colombia’s Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to extradite an alleged Venezuelan drug trafficker who U.S. prosecutors hope will help them convict the leaders of one of history’s most powerful mafias.

The high court approved Washington’s request for 38-year-old Fernando Jose Flores, whose arrest last August could make it possible for the United States to put the jailed leaders of the Cali cocaine cartel on trial.

The decision to extradite Flores, a 308-pound-man nicknamed ``Fatso,″ followed the approval Tuesday of the extradition of another Colombian to the United States. Jaime Orlando Lara, a suspected heroin kingpin, faces an unrelated U.S. indictment.

The extradition requests must now be approved by President Andres Pastrana, who is widely expected to grant them. A former kidnap victim of the rival Medellin cartel, Pastrana has tried to woo Washington’s support by vowing to fight drug traffickers.

Lara and Flores would be the first Colombians extradited to the United States since the South American country’s 1991 constitution outlawed the practice. A December 1997 law reinstated extradition, but only for crimes committed after that date.

That clause had dimmed U.S. prosecutors’ hopes of ever trying Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, the brothers who ran the now-defunct Cali cocaine cartel before turning themselves over to Colombian authorities in 1995.

U.S. and Colombian officials long suspected the two are still running their cocaine empire from the Bogota prison where they are held. Flores may have the evidence that could help them prove it, reopening case against the Rodriguez brothers.

Colombia’s drug cartels have a long history of killing turncoats, but Flores has an incentive _ a probable life sentence if he is convicted. He is charged with helping the Cali cartel ship nearly eight tons of cocaine to Florida in 1991 through a Venezuelan front company.

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