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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 September 2006, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
Colombian drug lords jailed in US
Gilberto (L) and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela
The brothers were once among the world's most powerful criminals
Two brothers who led Colombia's infamous Cali drug cartel have each been sentenced to 30 years in US jails.

Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela pleaded guilty in a federal court in Miami to conspiring to import 200,000kg (441,000lb) of cocaine into the US.

The sentencing came after the pair reached a plea agreement to forfeit $2.1bn (1.1bn) while charges against some of their relatives were dropped.

The US attorney general said the deal was the cartel's final, fatal blow.

"This is a day of pride for the people of Colombia and for international law enforcement," Alberto Gonzales said.

Empire run from jail

The brothers founded the cartel and were once considered among the world's most powerful criminals.

The BBC's Jeremy Mc Dermott in Bogota says they were always family-orientated and that, in the end, was the reason for their guilty plea.

They struck a deal with prosecutors to protect six relatives from money-laundering and obstruction charges. Twenty-eight family members will be allowed to hold onto some assets not tainted by drugs.

"The brothers are happy that their families are taken care of," said Roy Kahn, a lawyer for the family.

"And to them, whether it's 30, 20 or 15 years - to them it's going to be a lifetime in jail. But they're willing to do that for their family's future and their family's welfare."

Clever traffickers

The Cali cartel was once responsible for up to 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the US, and was known for its ingenious smuggling methods that hid cocaine in hollowed-out timber, cylinders of chlorine, and even shipments of frozen broccoli and okra.

Miguel, 63, was extradited to the US in March, three months after his brother Gilberto, 67, was flown to Miami. Both initially pleaded not guilty.

The brothers were accused of organising drug-trafficking and money-laundering from the Colombian prison in which they had been held since 1995.

In March, William Rodriguez Abadia, Gilberto's son, was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison by a judge in Miami, after he agreed to co-operate against his father and his uncle.

Abadia, a lawyer, is alleged to have led the cartel after the pair were arrested in 1995.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The Orejuelas' lawyer explains why they pleaded guilty



SEE ALSO
Son to testify against drug baron
09 Mar 06 |  Americas
Colombia court backs extradition
23 Feb 05 |  Americas
Colombian drug baron in US court
07 Dec 04 |  Americas
Colombian druglord faces US jail
04 Nov 04 |  Americas
US goes after Cali cocaine bosses
24 Dec 03 |  Americas
Colombian baron re-arrested
13 Mar 03 |  Americas

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