- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

TUNJA, Colombia A Colombian court ordered one of the country's former top drug lords released from prison yesterday, as investigators worked to find evidence to support further charges, and perhaps his extradition to the United States.

Gilberto Rodriguez and his brother, Miguel, once controlled the Cali drug cartel, an empire that moved multiton shipments of cocaine across the globe including to the United States.

In yesterday's ruling, Judge Luz Amanda Moncada ordered Gilberto Rodriguez released, and declared that Miguel Rodriguez must stay in prison to serve out a sentence for a bribery charge.

A different judge stunned the nation last week when he ordered the release of both Rodriguez brothers after they had served just half their sentences for drug trafficking.

President Alvaro Uribe halted their release on Saturday as officials scrambled to find a way to keep them behind bars. After hearing yesterday's ruling, however, Justice Minister Fernando Londono said government officials would respect the judge's decision.

Nonetheless, Mr. Londono called the decision "a terrible blow."

"This is a moment of mourning and pain for the country's image and for the administration of justice in Colombia," he told RCN Radio.

On Tuesday, officials announced that a judge in a separate case had sentenced Miguel Rodriguez to four years in prison in the bribery case.

Yet as of Wednesday night, no concrete cases against Gilberto Rodriguez had been established. On Tuesday, his attorneys filed a petition to get him released from prison. Judge Moncada granted the petition yesterday, and Gilberto Rodriguez was expected to leave prison shortly thereafter.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also was working to link the brothers to international crimes committed after 1997, when Colombia's constitution was revised to allow the extradition of its citizens.

The men were captured in 1995, so authorities would have to prove that any new crimes were committed from their cells. In the past, drug lords have been accused of continuing to run their operations from prison.

The United States requested the extradition of the Rodriguez brothers in 1996, but a year later the Colombian government denied the request.

The Cali cartel took over the world cocaine trade after the death of drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Colombian authorities believe that all the top figures of the cartel have been jailed or killed, yet remnants of the drug operation still exist in Cali, Colombia's third-largest city, 185 miles southwest of Bogota.

U.S. authorities think William Rodriguez, the son of Miguel Rodriguez, may be one of the new drug leaders in Cali. In August, the United States requested extradition of the 37-year-old lawyer.

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