MOSCOW – A former Israeli military officer wanted in Colombia for training illegal right-wing militias employed by drug lords that were responsible for hundreds of killings was released from Russian custody Friday, news reports said.
Israel's Channel 2 TV showed Yair Klein Friday leaving a Moscow jail where he had been held on Colombia's extradition request. The station said he would fly home this weekend, and Russia's Interfax agency also reported he was heading for Israel.
Officials in Moscow and Israel couldn't be reached for comment late Friday. But Colombia said it was not giving up its efforts to obtain Klein and put him in prison.
Klein was convicted by a Colombian court in 2001 and remained in Russian custody since his August 2007 arrest at a Moscow airport.
He was sentenced in absentia to nearly 11 years in prison for his role in the 1980s training of far-right paramilitary groups responsible for mass murder and widespread land theft during a more than decade-long reign of terror across Colombia's countryside.
Klein was convicted of training members of the private army of the late drug lord Pablo Escobar, whose hit men killed justice ministers, journalists, judges, prosecutors — and the cartel-fighting presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan in 1989.
Klein has denied working with Colombia's cocaine cartels and said he only instructed paramilitaries in defense tactics.
The European Court of Human Rights recommended in April that Klein not be extradited for fear he would not receive a fair trial. The Colombian government protested the nonbinding decision, saying it would deny justice to victims of the paramilitaries.
Before his arrest in Russia, Colombian authorities had unsuccessfully demanded his extradition from Israel.
Klein spoke briefly to Israel's Channel 2 TV outside the prison in Moscow, saying Russia had arrested him without a valid legal reason as he arrived on a business trip. He said the Russians apparently hoped to strike a major arms deal with Colombia and wanted to please its government by handing him over.
"I was arrested in order to blackmail me and do some kind of deal with Colombia," he said, speaking in Hebrew. "All of a sudden I became a bargaining chip."
Klein complained about harsh prison conditions and said his hand had become paralyzed because of nerve damage. He blasted the Israeli authorities for failing to help get him out.
"Now I need to start making a living from scratch," Klein said, adding that he plans to publish two books that "will cause chaos in Israel."
Klein's lawyer, Mordehai Tzibin, said he "would be tortured and then murdered without a doubt" if extradited to Colombia.
Colombia's Justice Minister German Vargas said his country would not "stand by with arms crossed" and allow Klein to escape justice.
He said in a statement that Colombian diplomats were studying legal alternatives for getting Klein to Colombia and hoped Israel, Russia and the rest of the international community would respond affirmatively.
Deitch reported from Jerusalem. Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects to say report appeared on Israel's Channel 2 TV instead of Channel 10. For global distribution.)