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Colombia drug cartel leaders plead guilty in US court

[JURIST] Two leaders of Colombia's notorious Cali Cartel [DEA backgrounder] drug ring pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela [BBC profile] were extradited [JURIST report] to the US from Colombia [JURIST news archive] in 2004 and 2005 respectively as two of the 300 drug traffickers extradited to the US under a 1997 accord. In an agreement [PDF via FindLaw] reached with federal prosecutors in exchange for the guilty pleas, a total of 28 people connected with the brothers, including 6 relatives, will be able to retain property and assets not associated with the cartel.

The Cali Cartel gained worldwide prominence as the leading supplier of cocaine after the collapse of the Medellin Cartel [DEA backgrounder] and the 1993 death of its leader, Pablo Escobar [Wikipedia profile]. The Cali Cartel was responsible for 80% of the global cocaine trade and is believed to have smuggled more than 250 tons of cocaine into the US since the 1970s. US prosecutors are seeking as much as $2.1 billion in drug profits from the brothers. AP has more.

11:45 PM ET - US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced in a press conference [transcript] later Monday that the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers were each sentenced to 30-year prison terms. USA Today has more.

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