BOGOTA, COLOMBIA, DEC. 31 -- A Colombian billionaire suspected of running a ring that supplies 80 percent of U.S. cocaine was freed from prison, but President Virgilio Barco charged tonight that the release was illegal.

Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez, on the top rung of alleged traffickers sought for extradition to the United States, walked out the front door of Bogota's La Picota prison last night, arm in arm with warden Alvaro Camacho and accompanied by his attorneys, the widely respected daily El Tiempo said. It headlined the account, "Once Again the Mafia Makes a Fool of Colombia."

{In Washington, Attorney General Edwin Meese III called Ochoa's release "a shocking blow to international law enforcement. The action is contrary to specific assurances by the Colombian government at the highest level that Ochoa, a Colombian national wanted by the United States in connection with a massive and notorious international narcotics cartel, would remain in custody pending his extradition . . . . We are evaluating how best to proceed in light of this development."

{Federal law enforcement sources interviewed by Mary Thornton of The Washington Post said that because of Ochoa's release, agencies with authority along the U.S. borders will begin giving special attention to passengers and cargo from Colombia. One source described a similar past informal retaliation: "Flowers start rotting on the tarmac, frozen shrimp start unfreezing . . . " Shrimp and cut flowers are two major imports from Colombia.}

Barco, in a New Year's Eve address, said the nation had received "with indignation" the news that the warden and a judge had released Ochoa in "open defiance of clear instructions from superiors." He said the warden and a lawyer with the prison were fired and will face criminal charges.

While officials reportedly said a search for Ochoa was under way, the government had not issued an arrest order for him by late tonight.

In an interview with El Tiempo, Justice Minister Enrique Low Mutra said he had ordered the warden not to free Ochoa. The warden said he released Ochoa on a habeas corpus issued by a Bogota judge, Andres Montanez. Ochoa was serving a 20-month sentence on contraband charges.

Ochoa's attorney, Humberto Barrera Dominguez, a former Supreme Court justice -- one of three such lawyers working for Ochoa -- said the judge had ruled that the prisoner already had served the time while in Spain and while in Colombia awaiting his trial, and should be freed.

Ochoa's lawyers and bodyguards sped off into the night to a small private airport on the outskirts of this city of 6 million people, and Ochoa, 38, boarded a private plane and took off. "He could be anywhere," said Barrera.

Low said the release was a defeat for the government of Barco in its fight against drug trafficking.

"Shame, Mr. President," proclaimed the headline in the other major Bogota daily, El Espectador.

It was the second time Ochoa had been freed by a Colombian judge. The Justice Department, in seeking his extradition, said his ring was responsible for up to 80 percent of the cocaine entering the United States.

Ochoa and other reputed leaders of the so-called Medellin Cartel were indicted in the United States in November 1986.

Last month, gunmen fired at the house of a Colombian newspaper editor and left a note threatening a blood bath if Ochoa were extradited.

Spanish officials arrested Ochoa in Madrid in 1986 and detained him for a year while the United States and Colombia sought his extradition.

Ochoa was returned to Colombia, where he was wanted for illegally importing fighting bulls, and last February a customs judge sentenced him to 20 months in prison. The judge suspended the sentence and released Ochoa on probation. Ochoa vanished and the judge was fired.

In November, Ochoa again was arrested, this time for parole violation, and was sent to prison to serve out his sentence.

The Justice Ministry issued an arrest order to make sure he would be held and extradited to the United States after finishing his prison term. But on Dec. 18, the order was revoked after Ochoa's attorneys successfully argued that Colombia's 1979 extradition treaty with the United States was invalid.

At the time of his arrest in November, Ochoa was driving a red Porsche belonging to Honduran Col. William Said Speer, who is attached to the Honduran Embassy in Bogota.

Said denied any links to Ochoa and said he had left his car at a mechanic's shop from which it was removed without his permission.

Colombia has never tried and convicted a major drug trafficker, but it extradited 14 Colombians to the United States to face drug charges before the treaty was declared invalid.

Twenty judges in Colombia have been murdered by drug traffickers in the last four years.

The assistant editor of the daily El Occidente of Cali, Raul Echavarria, was murdered after his newspaper published a series of articles calling for stronger government action against drug trafficking.

In 1984, Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara, a leader in the anti-drug movement, was assassinated in Bogota, allegedly by drug traffickers.