Colombia Pyramid Scheme Suspect Will Be Extradited to U.S.

The mastermind of a pyramid scheme that bilked Colombians out of hundreds of millions of dollars can be extradited to the United States, Colombia's Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

David Murcia is indicted in the U.S. on charges of conspiracy to launder at least $2 million there. He already has been convicted in Colombia of crimes including money laundering, and sentencing is pending.

The 29-year-old former messenger built a business, DMG Group Holdings SA, that promised fantastic interest rates but collapsed last November, prompting hundreds of angry investors to storm company's office and authorities to arrest DMG's principals and shutter the company.

Murcia himself was extradited to Colombia from Panama, where authorities say he spent lavishly on yachts, cars and luxury apartments. Police said they suspected he was involved with drug traffickers but no such charges were ever brought against him.

Murcia's lawyer Gustavo Salazar, who has defended many Colombian drug traffickers, called the conviction here in August "political" and indicated he did not oppose extradition to the United States, where he said "justice is more serious."

Associates of Murcia have contributed to political campaigns and DMG hired high-powered journalists and lawyers in three years of operation.

Murcia himself has said he contributed $2 million to a petition drive for a referendum that would allow President Alvaro Uribe to seek re-election. The country's Constitutional Court is currently considering the legality of that petition drive.

Many Colombians regard Murcia as a folk hero because DMG offered generous payouts and provided an alternative to banks, where the poor have a difficult time obtaining loans.

Murcia's brother Christian has sought to capitalize on that popularity by running for a seat in Colombia's congress.

Critics of Uribe say he too readily extradites suspects to the U.S.