Amazing story of how Pablo Escobar came to be the richest crook in history

Mar 16, 2009 00:00 By Annie Brown
PABLO5abTHE brother of the infamous Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar has revealed the ingenious smuggling methods he used to flood America with cocaine.
THE brother of the infamous Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar has revealed the ingenious smuggling methods he used to flood America with cocaine.

Roberto, who was to become known as his brother’s “accountant”, said Pablo’s Medellin drug cartel was making so much cash, it spent £1200 a month on rubber bands just to hold the wads of dollar bills together.

In his new book, The Accountant’s Story, published this week, Roberto reveals how Pablo came from poverty to become the seventh richest man in the world.

The brothers were the sons of a teacher and a farmer and were so poor that once Pablo was sent home from school because he had no shoes.

Roberto said: “Our poverty made an impression on our lives that neither my brother nor I ever forgot.”

They lived in Envigado, in an area populated by liberals, so they were targeted by the Chusmeros, the mobs on the conservative side. Families were slaughtered in their beds just for living in the wrong place.

Roberto said: “The most we could do was lock our doors at night. Our only weapon was our prayers.”

A year after an attack on their home, Pablo and Roberto were sent to live in the city of Medellin, where they were raised in a large house with their loving, but strict, grandmother.

Roberto said: “In those early days, it was impossible to believe that one day Pablo would rule the city and make it known throughout the world as the home of the Medellin drug cartel.”

Pablo was well educated, but his vocation lay in crime and his first step on the ladder was to work for the multi-millionaire contraband smuggler Alvaro Prieto.

Through his dedication and guile, Pablo became a millionaire by the time he was 22.

Roberto’s book is an invidious account which glosses over the true villainy of the evil and murderous Escobar.

A judicial “Truth Commission” convened by the Colombian government concluded Pablo ordered the murder of 30 judges, 457 policemen and as many as 20 ordinary people a day, because they had fallen foul of him.

He organised the assassination of a presidential candidate and helped a leftwing guerrilla group execute an assault on Colombia’s Supreme Court, with the murder of half of the judges.

But he was generous with his money and the trucks of gifts and food he would distribute in the poorest neighbourhoods of Medellin would buy him loyalty and, to this day, a reputation among the poor as a hero.

He built churches and football pitches and kept villages alive with work from his deadly trade.

In the Seventies, when Pablo decided to get into the cocaine business, America was still only dabbling in the drug.

Roberto maintains Pablo fell into the business simply because contraband became too dangerous to traffic.

He could make more money with one truck loaded with cocaine than 40 carrying booze and cigarettes.

There were no drug cartels and only a few drug barons, so there was plenty of business for everyone.

In Peru, they bought the cocaine paste, which they refined in a laboratory in a two-storey house in Medellin.

On his first trip, Pablo bought a paltry £30 worth of paste in what was to become the first step towards the building of his empire.

At first, he smuggled the cocaine in old plane tyres and a pilot could earn as much as £500,000 a flight depending on how many kilos he could smuggle.

With one flight a week, the profit was a staggering £1million a week, but soon the flights tripled.

Pablo was to become the pioneer in the use of drug mules. People became vital carriers – sometimes just travellers, at other times airline crew, and it was not uncommon for the pilot and cabin crew to be carrying drugs.

He ensured loyalty by paying big money to anyone he needed, from the military and police to airport managers.

The manager of one small Colombian airport was paid up to £300,000 for each Pablo flight that was allowed to land unhindered.

When he was finally arrested, the airport manager had £15million in his bank account.

In the early days, few stood in Pablo’s way – especially not the authorities, who were easily bribed.

Roberto said: “From an early age, we learned the rules were for sale.”

There was so much cash, it became impossible to simply pump it into real estate or banks.

Roberto and a team of 10 accountants took care of the money and they were forced to store wads of notes in warehouses and secret compartments under swimming pools, in bins and in the walls of gang members’ homes.

Coffee was scattered across the money because, after a while, cash develops a distinctive smell The cartel would write off 10 per cent of the money to soilage because it would lie untouched for so long that rats would eat it or it would be water damaged.

Labs employing hundreds of people were built deep in the heart of the jungle. These bases became small cities, with schools, medical centres andcanteens.

One of the biggest and most efficient was a huge farm on the Venezuelan border, where the little houses were on wheels.

When a flight was due in to pick up or drop off, the houses would be wheeled back to expose a landing strip and then wheeled forward again when the plane took off.

One of the camp’s rules was that the houses would have at least one occupant at so they could be wheeled back at short notice. About 200 people lived there helping produce 10,000 kilos of cocaine every fortnight.

Pablo even employed teams of chemists to come up with new ways of smuggling his drugs.

He sent 23,000 kilos mixed with dried fish from Peru, one of that country’s biggest exports.

Chemists discovered cocaine could be chemically blended into products made of plastic, metals and liquids and, when it reached the destination, the process was reversed and the cocaine purified.

Liquified cocaine was added to Chilean wine, it was mixed with flowers and chemically soaked into Colombian lumber exports.

Even jeans were soaked with the liquid and the coke would be washed out at the destination.

And when it was chemically blended with plastic, it was shaped in to the most ordinary items from PVC pipes to religious statues.

Pablo bought his own fleet of planes to transport the drug. Freight ships and speedboats were also used and drugs were even parachuted on to boats mid-ocean.

Roberto said: “The question I am asked most often is how much money Pablo had. The answer is billions. More than any man could ever spend in a lifetime.”

In 1989, Forbes magazine listed Pablo as the seventh richest man in the world, estimating that the Medellin cartel earned as much as £20million a year. Pablo had cornered 80 per cent of the global cocaine market.

Roberto said: “There was so much money that when we lost it, we still slept soundly.”

On one occasion, £5million was put on the wrong ship and was snaffled by the crew.

But when Pablo heard the news, he shrugged his shoulders.

“Some you win, some you lose,” he said.

It was to be many years before Pablo would eventually lose it all, when his notoriety made it impossible for the Colombian and US Governments to allow him to continue.

A Colombian police task force, known as the Search Bloc, was created specifically to hunt him down and, in December 1993, after cornering him on a rooftop in Medellin, he was shot in the leg, torso, and fatally in the ear.

To this day, Roberto maintains money remains undiscovered in hiding holes and bank accounts long since forgotten.

Millions upon millions of dollars simply left to rot.

The Accountant’s Story, £11.99, is on sale on Tuesday and is published by Hodder & Stoughton.