Police may have proof now of what U.S. drug agents long have suspected: that the world’s most powerful drug gang, the Cali cartel, has penetrated deep into Colombia’s politics, military and society.
A list seized during a raid by police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials indicates the traffickers have thousands of people - including politicians, police, athletes and journalists - on their payroll.
A top prosecutor investigating the cocaine cartel said the trail could lead to Colombian President Ernesto Samper.
The list of 2,800 names was seized from a luxury apartment of fugitive Cali cartel leader Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela on July 15. News of the find first was made public by the television program TV Hoy on Saturday night.
The list is considered the firmest evidence found so far of how deep into Colombian society the cartel has reached.
Rodriguez himself almost was apprehended in the raid in Cali, but the drug kingpin is believed to have escaped by crouching in a hiding place that had been built behind a bathroom wall.
TV Hoy did not release names on the list but said they include judges, members of Congress, city mayors, state governors, military personnel, police, journalists, athletes and soccer entrepreneurs.
Prosecutor General Alfonso Valdivieso acknowledged Saturday night that “important evidentiary material” had been found but refused to give details.
Valdivieso, who is heading several investigations into Cali cartel corruption, including payoffs to congressmen, said the trail could lead to President Samper. Local news organizations have reported that Samper’s election campaign allegedly received money from a cartel front company.
Other items seized in the raid included secret documents exchanged between the United States and Colombia related to criminal charges against Rodriguez, the newspaper El Tiempo reported Sunday.
The Cali cartel, which controls international cocaine trafficking and also has a strong hold on the heroin trade, has an intelligence system rivaling that of the Colombian government. Among its operatives are former senior members of Colombia’s police and military.
The day before the raid, a dozen alleged members of a Cali cartel security team were arrested, including former army Maj. Luis Mario Del Basto, one of the armed forces’ most decorated officers, and former secret police detective Arcadio Gutierrez, El Tiempo said.
The Cali cartel’s earnings of about $8 billion annually enable it to infiltrate many levels of Colombian society, as well as officials outside the country, DEA chief Thomas Constantine told The Associated Press.
“As a result of that money, they have influence in media, public opinion, the political system and worldwide contacts,” Constantine said in a recent interview at DEA headquarters.The DEA and the CIA are helping Colombia in its fight to dismantle the Cali cartel. Four DEA agents participated in the July 15 raid.
Among the computer disks and papers discovered in Rodriguez’s apartment were messages from informants telling him in detail about pending efforts to capture him.
The drug cartel also had numerous taps on the Cali telephone exchange.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.