January 18, 2006

Son of Cali drug lord pleads innocent in US court

MIAMI (Reuters) - The son of a former head of Colombia's
Cali cocaine cartel, accused of keeping its drug business going
while his father was in jail, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday
to a long list of criminal charges in federal court in Miami.

The brief court appearance by William Rodriguez Abadia, son
of once feared Cali cartel kingpin Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela,
came two days after he surrendered to U.S. authorities in

Clad in blue jeans, a light blue shirt and ankle chains,
the balding 40-year-old Rodriguez Abadia muttered only a few
words in English and Spanish as his lawyer entered the plea on
his behalf.

Rodriguez Abadia's Miami-based lawyer, Humberto Dominguez,
told reporters his surrender in Panama capped about four months
of secretive negotiations.

"It had to be extremely hush-hush, otherwise he wouldn't
have made it out of Colombia," Dominguez said.

He said his client had been on the run in Colombia for
years, was suffering from various health problems including the
loss of one kidney, and had feared for his life while in hiding
in his homeland.

"When you're living as a fugitive your life is at risk,"
said Dominguez.

Though he claims he is innocent, U.S. authorities accuse
Rodriguez Abadia of continuing to run the Cali cartel for his
father and uncle, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, while they were
in jail in Colombia in the late 1990s.

The Rodriguez Orejuela brothers are both now in jail in
Miami awaiting trial.

The Cali cartel, which controlled up to 80 percent of the
world's cocaine in the early 1990s according to the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration, is no longer one of the major
forces in the Colombian drug trade, which has fragmented in
recent years.

But it was described in a statement from the U.S.
attorney's office on Wednesday as "one of the most prolific and
violent organizations ever prosecuted in the United States."

In addition to drug trafficking and money laundering,
Rodriguez Abadia faces obstruction of justice and racketeering
conspiracy charges in the Southern District of Florida.

Dominguez said he was expected to go in trial in September.