BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia asked Israel on Thursday to extradite former Israeli army Lt. Col. Yair Klein, who was convicted by a Colombian court and sentenced in absentia to nearly 11 years in prison for training drug lords' assassins in the late 1980s.
"The evidence (against Klein) is conclusive," Interior Minister German Vargas told a news conference, saying the formal request had been made in Tel Aviv by Colombia's embassy there. "For the Colombian government it is essential that this sentence is completed and that this citizen clarify his participation in the organization and training of these groups."
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Bogota said it would have no comment on the extradition request. Colombia lacks an extradition treaty with Israel.
In Israel, Klein and his attorney told The Associated Press that Klein's life would be in danger if he were imprisoned in Colombia.
"Colombia is trying malevolently and without any legal basis to have Klein extradited even though he has done nothing wrong," said the lawyer, Mordechai Tzivin.
"They tried me in absentia. They are persecuting me. Everything they say is delusional," Klein told the AP.
He has threatened to reveal the names of senior Colombian officials he says invited him to organize military training in 1988-89 for what he said he understood to be peasants who were creating self-defense units to protect themselves against leftist rebel extortion and kidnapping.
But he refused in a December interview with the AP to name those officials. He also reiterated his claim he was unaware that the trainees included employees of cocaine lords including the late Pablo Escobar.
Klein was convicted in Colombia of criminal conspiracy in 2001 for organizing training by Israeli mercenaries in "military tactics and techniques" including bomb-making for gunmen employed by ranchers and drug traffickers.
Some of the trainees would go on to commit some of Colombia's most heinous massacres.
As well, U.S. and British investigations determined two decades ago that Klein was also involved in smuggling 400 Galil assault rifles and 100 Uzi submachine guns bought from Israeli into Colombia in 1989 when his plans to create a mercenary-ran training camp on the Caribbean island of Antigua unraveled.
Nearly half of those weapons were found in December 1989 on the ranch of Colombian drug kingpin Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, who had just been slain after a massive manhunt.
Klein denies any involvement in the arms smuggling.
However, an Israeli court convicted him in 1991 of illegally selling military expertise to the Colombians without a license and the unlawful sale of equipment including weapons and night-gun scopes. He got a one-year suspended sentence and was fined $13,400.
Klein also spent 16 months in a Sierra Leone prison in 1999 for his alleged role in a guns-for-diamonds deal.
Vargas noted Thursday that Klein oversaw the military training of private armies at the very moment Colombia's far-right "paramilitary" militias were being formed.
Those militias — built in large part with drug-trafficking proceeds — have killed thousands and stolen millions of acres in land over the past three decades.
Arrested in Moscow in 2007, Klein spent three years in a Moscow prison on a Colombian extradition request before being freed in November after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Colombia could not guarantee his physical safety owing to its poor human rights record.
Colombia disputes that contention.
Associated Press Writers Cesar Garcia in Bogota and Amy Teibel in Israel contributed to this report.