The New York Times
December 4, 2004

Colombia Plans to Extradite Drug Kingpin

BOGOTÁ, Colombia, Dec. 3 - President Álvaro Uribe signed the final order on Friday to extradite Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, who would be the most prominent cocaine kingpin sent to the United States to face justice.

Prison authorities waited for the final word to transport Mr. Rodríguez Orejuela, the 65-year-old former leader of the powerful Cali cocaine cartel, to the airport, where he was to be put on a plane belonging to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and flown to Miami.

American and Colombian law enforcement officials said Mr. Rodríguez Orejuela, with his brother, Miguel, ran a multibillion-dollar cocaine trafficking ring based in Cali that at one time transported most of the cocaine used in the United States. He was jailed in 1995, but American and Colombian officials say he continued to organize drug trafficking.

The impending extradition underscores the close cooperation in the fight against drugs between the Bush administration and President Uribe, who has extradited more suspected traffickers to the United States than any other Colombian leader.

In a federal indictment in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, American officials charge that even from jail, Mr. Rodríguez Orejuela wielded enormous influence, running a money-laundering operation to hide $2.1 billion in drug revenue. A Florida court also accused him of continuing to traffic in cocaine.

Unlike better-known drug traffickers like Pablo Escobar, Mr. Rodríguez Orejuelas introduced a low-key, almost technocratic approach. Known as the Chess Player, as much for his carefully staged moves as for his love of chess, Mr. Rodríguez Orejuela built a tight, corporate-style organization.

He and his brother worked hard to be socially acceptable, shunning anything that seemed flamboyant while quietly investing drug money in a drugstore chain, hotels, construction companies and agro-industrial companies.

But Mr. Rodríguez Orejuela has lost control of much of his business, authorities say, and is afflicted by several ailments. Last month the Supreme Court approved his extradition after Mr. Uribe signed his extradition order. His appeals failed.