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Colombian drug suspect extradited

May 08, 2008|Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writer

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — The Colombian government Wednesday extradited a right-wing paramilitary leader to the United States, where he will face drug trafficking charges.

Carlos Mario Jimenez, alias Macaco, had surrendered as part of a paramilitary demobilization program that by 2006 had seen 31,000 militia members and leaders lay down their arms, a keystone of President Alvaro Uribe's plan to end this country's four-decade-long civil war.

Militia leaders were promised light prison sentences and immunity from extradition if they gave up their lives of crime and confessed. But Jimenez violated the terms of the Justice and Peace Law by continuing to run his drug trafficking and illicit business empire from his jail cell, Colombian and U.S. officials said Wednesday.

He was put on a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plane shortly after midnight.

"He's a huge one," a high-ranking U.S. government official said. Jimenez was a top commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.

Paramilitary groups were formed by ranchers and farmers in the mid-1980s to defend against leftist guerrillas, but in many instances morphed into criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking, slayings, extortion and land grabs.

"We're not going to reward people who revert to crime," Uribe said Wednesday at a meeting with businessmen in Medellin. His government viewed the extradition of Jimenez as a key test of whether the Justice and Peace Law had teeth, sources said.

Uribe has extradited more than 600 drug trafficking and terrorism suspects to the U.S. since taking office in 2002.

Victims rights groups opposed the extradition and went to court to try to stop it. They said Jimenez had yet to give up a fortune in illegally acquired assets, including thousands of acres of farmland in the lush Magdalena River valley taken from ranchers and peasants.

One branch of the judicial system sided three weeks ago with the victims groups. The judges said Jimenez could not be extradited until he had returned ill-gotten gains and completed his testimony before special courts set up under the demobilization law.

Another court Tuesday ruled that the extradition could go forward because it did not constitute "irremediable damage" to victims.

The Uribe government saw it as a green light to send Jimenez to face a U.S. federal indictment.

In comments to reporters Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield said victims would still be able to file claims against Jimenez and that "the only thing that has changed is alias Macaco's physical location."

Alirio Uribe Munoz, head of a Bogota-based human rights group, said that of the more than 30,000 paramilitary soldiers who demobilized, only 54 are in jail.

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Chris.kraul@latimes.com

Special correspondent Jenny Carolina Gonzalez contributed to this report.

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