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Colombia Update: Samper Campaign Scandal Continues; Allegations Made Against Drug Prosecutor Gustavo de Greiff; Noriega Alleges U.S. Withheld Evidence That Cali Cartel Bribed a Witness to Testify Against Him; Arrests Change U.S. Drug Market


December 1995

Colombian President Ernesto Samper, already defending himself against allegations that he accepted a $6 million campaign contribution from the Cali cartel, is now facing evidence that he has often accepted drug money (Mary Beth Sheriden and Juan O. Tamayo, "Millions Given to Samper by Drug Lords, Sources Say," Miami Herald, November 6, 1995, p. 1A; Mary Beth Sheriden, "Samper Scandal Ends an Era in Drug-Corrupted Colombia," Miami Herald, November 5, 1995; for background, see "Drug Scandal Implicates Colombian President," NewsBriefs, October 1995).

New evidence shows that Pablo Escobar may have contributed $300,000 to Samper's 1982 campaign. In an interview with a radio journalist in 1983, Escobar said he was angry that Samper did not acknowledge the gift. An informant told the DEA that she saw the heads of the Cali cartel give Samper $300,000 in 1989. In 1993, an informant said Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela refused to contribute to a congressional campaign because they said they were already contributing to Samper's campaign.

Another important figure in the Samper campaign scandal was assassinated on November 2. Gunmen calling themselves "National Dignity" shot and killed former presidential candidate and Conservative Party leader Alvaro Gomez Hurtado (Associated Press, "Gunmen Kill Politician, Aide in Colombia" Miami Herald, November 3, 1995, p. 18A).

Gomez had been critical of President Samper, urging him to resign because of the Cali cartel contribution scandal. A group named "Movement for the Dignity of Colombia" had claimed responsibility for the murder of Antonio Jose Cancino, the lawyer who was representing Samper against the allegations (see "Colombia Update," NewsBriefs, November 1995).

Former Top Drug Prosecutor Accused of
Conspiring With Cali Officials

Two witnesses in a New York City trial testified that Colombian drug prosecutor Gustavo de Greiff met with the leader of the Cali cartel in secret and was also blackmailed by a Medellin cartel official into letting him out of prison (Gerardo Reyes and Juan O. Tamayo, "Suspicion Shadows Drug Cartel Prosecutor," Miami Herald, October 22, 1995, p. 1A). de Greiff flatly denies the charges.

In December 1994, a New York jury convicted Dandenny Munoz-Mosquera of setting a bomb in a plane that killed 110 people in Bogota in 1989. One of the witnesses at the trial said she helped Joaquin Builes blackmail de Greiff with financial papers. After confronting de Greiff with the papers, she testified that he became very angry. Later, she said, de Greiff met with Builes and promised to get him out of jail. Later that year he was released. Another witness at the trial confirmed the woman's story. de Greiff said Builes was released after a jury found him innocent. [The Herald's account did not fully explain the context in which this testimony was presented. NewsBriefs will try to explain further the allegations in the January 1996 issue.]

de Greiff became the head of the Colombian drug prosecution effort in July 1992. He has been outspoken, advocating the eventual legalization of drugs and criticizing the U.S. for not doing more about domestic consumption of drugs. He is now the Colombian ambassador to Mexico.

Allegations have also been made that de Greiff met with Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela at the home of journalist Alberto Giraldo in 1993. At that time, Rodriguez Orejuela was being activey hunted by Colombian police. Although de Greiff denies meeting with the cartel leader and says he only met with Rodriguez Orejuela's lawyers, Colombian police reportedly have recorded telephone conversations, surveillance tapes, and the journalist's diary that show that de Greiff and Rodriguez Orejuela met on two occasions. de Greiff denies any wrongdoing. "This is an infamy," he said of the allegations.

de Greiff is also being criticized for his part in the investigation of a possible $6 million Cali cartel contribution to President Ernesto Samper's campaign. Critics say that the fact that his daughter was Samper's treasurer for two months, before the alleged contribution was made, created a conflict of interest.

Possible Bribe in Noriega Trial

Deposed Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega has charged that federal U.S. prosecutors withheld information that members of the Cali cartel bribed a key witness in the case against him (William Booth, "Possible Bribe Admitted in Noriega Trial," Washington Post, November 11, 1995, p. 1; David Lyons, "Cali Cartel Paid Noriega Witness to Testify," Miami Herald, November 1, 1995, p. 8B).

In documents Noriega filed requesting a new trial, he claimed that information about the bribe and an offer to reduce the sentence of another witness could be used to impeach the testimony of those witnesses at a new trial. In response to the allegations, prosecutors did acknowledge that they had information from two informants that the cartel paid Ricardo Bilonick, a former officer in the Medellin cartel, $250,000 in cash and $1 million in certificates of deposit the day before he surrendered to police.

Prosecutors said that the new allegation does not mean Noriega should have a new trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Fernandez said Bilonick's testimony was not that important in the context of the entire trial. But in other papers filed in the case, the government acknowledged Bilonick was a key witness against Noriega. Noriega is serving 40 years for allowing Panama to be used as a transhipment point for Medellin cartel cocaine.

High Cocaine Prices Not Due to Cali Arrests, DEA Says

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says that high cocaine prices in many major cities do not mean the supply of cocaine to the U.S. has been reduced ("DEA Says Cocaine Price Hikes Not Indicative of Reduced Supply," Drug Enforcement Report, October 10, 1995, p. 5).

Despite the arrests of six of the seven major Cali cartel figures in the past six months, DEA officials say dealers are using the arrests to inflate their prices and their profits. The price for a kilogram of cocaine in Philadelphia has increased from $20,000 to $25,000 in the past six months (Clifford Krauss, "Colombia Arrests Raise Price of Cocaine in New York City," New York Times, September 15, 1995, p. A1).

Other officials say there has been a major reduction in the amount of cocaine coming into the U.S. "It is not a thin disruption, but a lot of disruption" in the cocaine market, said an unnamed senior State Department official.

The arrests have also reportedly changed drug trafficking routes. Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Lee Brown said that drug flights out of Andean nations dropped by two-thirds for the period of January to June 1995. Colombian police say that cocaine is now being smuggled by mules or by air by small, less experienced carriers (Stephen Fidler and Sally Bowen, "Colombian Cocaine: Down But Not Out," London Financial Times, October 12, 1995, p. 8).