Court must hand back 23.5m pounds drugs cash

Luxembourg (AFP) - The Luxembourg High Court of Justice ruled yesterday in favour of returning dollars 36m ( pounds 23.5m) of narcotics money, seized by the authorities, to a Colombian drug empire because of a legal loophole. The court upheld the sentences of two Colombians, including the treasurer of the Cali drugs cartel, who were convicted last June of laundering the cartel's drug takings. The money, destined to go to the Cali godfather, was seized by the authorities from more than 50 accounts in 33 European banks.

But the High Court ruled that most of this money had to be returned to the owner of the accounts, because Luxembourg law as it stood at the time of the seizure said funds could only be kept if the owner was convicted. In this case the account holder was Heriberto Castro-Maza, a self-described property magnate and father-in-law to Cali godfather Jose Santacruz Londono. Castro-Maza, who was not among the accused, has since died, so his wife Esperanza and his daughter Amparo, who is married to Londono, will get the money.