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COURT SAYS 2-TON COCAINE CASE IS BEYOND U.S. JURISDICTION

In a landmark ruling, an appeals court has dismissed a case against a Saudi prince's former lover and a Colombian man convicted two years ago of conspiring to smuggle two tons of cocaine.

The pair were found guilty of using the prince's Boeing 727 to transport cocaine from Venezuela to France. But a three-judge panel at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that no crime had been committed "against the United States," because the drugs never touched U.S. soil and were never intended for the American market.

Miami real estate agent Doris Mangeri and businessman Ivan Lopez were sentenced to 24 and 23 years in jail, respectively, for their role in the drug shipments.

Defense attorneys want Mangeri and Lopez released on bail, but prosecutors are strongly opposed, arguing that the pair partnered with a trafficking group that smuggled 50 tons of cocaine through the ports of Miami, Houston and New York.

The ruling could also end the government's case against two others charged in the case, including Saudi Sheik Nayef bin Sultan bin Fawwaz Al-Shaalan, who is a member of the Saudi royal family. U.S. officials were never able to arrest Al-Shaalan, a former University of Miami student, who is believed to be living in Saudi Arabia.

In a court motion opposing bail, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Arango said the court's ruling sent a message "that narcotics dealers of the highest caliber are free to congregate here to plan worldwide narcotics distribution ... as long as they do not include the United States in a planned distribution."

But Lopez's attorney, Richard Strafer, an appeals specialist, said the government had failed to understand the law as intended by Congress. "Conversations about drugs do not amount to possession" he said.

Mangeri's defense attorney, Douglas Williams, said the appeals court ruling vindicated his efforts to have the case thrown out from its inception. "The court is saying this case was flawed from the get-go," he said.

Lopez and Mangeri are not completely out of the woods. The government can ask for the appeal to be reheard before the entire appellate court. Lopez and Mangeri could also face extradition to France where investigations into the drug shipments are pending.

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