Cali Cartel still in 'drug kingpin' business, U.S. says
BY TIM JOHNSON
WASHINGTON - The Cali Cartel, once the largest cocaine syndicate in the world, may not have been entirely dismantled, as Colombian police officials suggested in the mid-1990s.
The Treasury Department on Thursday said it had identified 59 companies and 78 individuals that are ``acting as fronts for Colombia's Cali drug cartel and are part of its international business and financial network operating in Spain and Colombia.''
Treasury prohibited all business with the companies and individuals.
Law enforcement officials made no arrests.
A senior Treasury official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the cartel-related businesses laundered ''multiple millions'' of dollars in Europe and that the Cali Cartel remains ''a drug kingpin organization'' of ''significant'' size.
The announcement may boost pressure on Colombia to take action against Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, the drug baron who walked out of prison Nov. 7 after serving seven years of a 15-year prison term.
Prosecutors say Gilberto and brother Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, who remains in a Colombian prison, once controlled as much as 80 percent of the world's cocaine through their cartel. In Thursday's action, at least seven other relatives of the brothers were listed as ``specially designated narcotics traffickers.''
The branch of the Treasury Department dealing with economic sanctions abroad, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said it had uncovered a ''network'' of drug cartel front companies in Spain and across Colombia. In Madrid, the 10 companies included real estate firms, an Internet services business, a graphic arts house, a coffee importer and a film distribution firm, a Treasury statement said.
U.S. officials said they had identified 49 companies in Colombia, including a series of pharmaceutical and cosmetic manufacturers and distributors led by Drocard S.A., with offices in Bogotá, the capital.
As the cartel fell on hard times in the mid-1990s, its drug barons owned Colombia's largest drugstore chain, Drogas La Rebaja, selling products often at below cost to launder profits.
Led by suit-clad businessmen, the Cali Cartel surpassed the gun-slinging Medellín Cartel as Colombia's biggest cocaine trafficking organization after the December 1993 killing of Pablo Escobar on a Medellín rooftop. But amid intense police persecution, all seven of the top Cali Cartel leaders were either captured or turned themselves in for reduced prison terms by early 1996. Experts say Colombia today has dozens of smaller trafficking groups.
Treasury officials said seven relatives of the Rodríguez
Orejuela brothers owned or managed the network of businesses in Spain --
Humberto, Jaime and Alexandra
Rodríguez Mondragón, Claudia Pilar and André Gilberto Rodríguez Ramírez, Juan Carlos Muñoz Rodríguez and María Fernanda Rodríguez Arbeláez.
The Colombian businesses are mainly in Bogotá and Cali. Others are in Pereira, Manizales, Cucuta and Bucaramanga.
Despite imprisonment, the leaders of the Cali Cartel ''tried to morph into something new to escape detection and they've not been successful at doing that,'' the Treasury official said.
A senior aide to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said prosecutors are ''continuously conducting a dragnet looking out for money laundering activity'' by jailed and freed drug barons.