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Last Updated: Friday, 14 March 2008, 00:27 GMT
Drug suspect faces US extradition
Police photos of Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia
Ramirez Abadia faces drug trafficking charges in the US
Brazil's Supreme Court has authorised the extradition to the United States of an alleged leader of one of Colombia's most powerful drug cartels.

But the court said the extradition could only go ahead if it received assurances Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia would not face the death penalty.

Brazil's president must now decide whether he must first face trial there for money-laundering and corruption.

Mr Ramirez Abadia, known as Chupeta or Lollypop, was arrested last August.

He was detained in a raid near Sao Paulo as part of a major investigation into the Norte del Valle cartel, which is accused of sending huge amounts of cocaine to the US and Europe, and laundering the proceeds by buying up property in Brazil.

The US has described Mr Ramirez Abadia as one of Colombia's most powerful and elusive drug-traffickers and he is suspected of ordering hundreds of murders in Colombia and the US.

Brazil charges

Mr Ramirez Abadia actively sought extradition to the United States where he is wanted for drug-trafficking, money-laundering and 15 murder charges, partly because he is said to fear for his life if he returns to Colombia.

Members of the Brazilian Landless Workers movement seize one of Mr Ramirez Abadia's ranches in Guaiba (21 January 2008)
Brazil confiscated and sold many of Mr Ramirez Abadia's properties

The 11 Supreme Court judges voted unanimously in favour of the extradition provided he does not face the death penalty and does not serve longer than 30 years, which is the maximum sentence that can be imposed in the country.

The US embassy in Brasilia has so far declined to comment.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will now make the final decision on whether the extradition goes ahead.

Mr Ramirez Abadia also faces charges of money-laundering, corruption, racketeering and falsification of documents in Brazil, and if convicted he may have to serve time in prison there before being sent to the US.

The BBC's Gary Duffy in Sao Paulo says that in January, Mr Ramirez Abadia offered to hand over millions of dollars if the extradition process went ahead quickly and his wife was released from jail, but this was rejected by a judge who ordered him to turn over his assets.

The US state department once estimated Mr Ramirez Abadia's personal wealth to be $1.8bn (900m), and several luxury properties he owned in Brazil have already been put up for public auction, our correspondent says.

Mr Ramirez Abadia, 44, has been accused of involvement in the illegal drugs trade since 1986. He surrendered to a Colombian court in 1996 but was released from prison in 2002.

He told his lawyer he had moved to Brazil because he feared he might be killed by a rival cartel, and has insisted he was not involved in drug-trafficking there.

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