Colombia’s Silence Cooks Coke Trafficker

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Facing U.S. lockup until after his 100th birthday, a cocaine trafficker may have gotten the very life sentence that Washington assured Bogotá it would not seek. But only Colombia, and not the 47-year-old drug lord, can complain about that, the Second Circuit ruled on Wednesday.
     Yesid Rios Suarez pleaded guilty early last year to overseeing laboratories near the Venezuelan border that manufactured tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine for distribution in the United States.
     Prosecutors say that his career spanned nearly two decades, from 1992 until his 2011 arrest in Venezuela.
     Following Suarez’s transfer to Colombia, the United States sought his extradition with a promise to Bogotá, the Colombia capital. “Although the maximum statutory penalty for the charge for which extradition was approved is life imprisonment, the government of the United States assures the government of Colombia that a sentence of life imprisonment will not be sought or imposed,” it said.
     Washington stayed true to the letter, if not the spirit, of its vow.
     Months after his guilty plea, Rios Suarez was 46 years old when he received a sentence that he believed was off the table.
     U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest acknowledged she imposed what was “effectively a life sentence” in condemning Rios Suarez to spend 54 years in prison and pay a $1 million fine, at a hearing in June 2014.
     A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit upheld the sentence on Wednesday
     “Suarez would only have prudential standing to raise the claim that his sentence violated the terms of his extradition if the Government of Colombia first makes an official protest,” U.S. District Judge Barrington Parker wrote for the panel.
     Judge Richard Wesley joined the eight-page opinion.
     In a concurring opinion, Judge Amalya Kearse added that she agreed with his colleagues “on the ground that the diplomatic agreement” leading to the extradition “should be read in accordance with the language to which the United States and Colombia agreed.”
     Colombia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
     Suarez’s attorney John Meringolo said in a phone interview that he contacted the Colombian consulate and planned to request Supreme Court certiorari.

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