Court kidnappers suffer liver failure: Ex-policeman wanted money for surgery

TAKING 18 Costa Rican Supreme Court judges hostage in the capital, San Jose, last Monday, 'Charlie' and 'the Panther' said they were part of a Colombian 'Death Commando'.

Attempting Colombian accents, they demanded dollars 20m ( pounds 12.7) and the release of Colombian drug traffickers. To strengthen their hand they recalled the 1985 bloodbath in Bogota when Colombian Supreme Court judges and scores of leftwing guerrillas died after the army ran out of patience with the kidnappers.

In jail in San Jose yesterday, after police tricked the five-man gang into freeing the judges and five other hostages, Charlie admitted he and his brother, 'the Panther', were former Costa Rican policemen and the other three were relatives.

Charlie, it emerged, was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver and wanted the cash for a transplant in the United States. He had borrowed guns from a friendly police chief 'for a family hunting trip'.

In a statement after his arrest, Charlie - Guillermo Fallas, 36 - apologised to the nation. 'Every other door had closed. I have a wife and three kids. They told me I was too young for a social security pension. This was my last chance.'

Charlie had been an anti-narcotics agent in the police and was trained by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. But he showed signs of needing a refresher course on Thursday night when elite police units slipped from the shadows of two parked aircraft to capture him, his brother and their three relatives as they boarded a plane they thought would take them to the land of their choice.

After a three-day stand-off the authorities had persuaded the gang to free all 23 hostages from the Supreme Court building. In return they were promised a flight out of the country, two unarmed police volunteers as guarantees and whatever the judges' families could come up with in a quick whip-round. When the kitty reached pounds 150,000, Charlie decided it might buy a transplant and made a deal.

In March a group of former Nicaraguan Contras occupied their country's embassy in San Jose and, after a two-week drama, got away with dollars 250,000.

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