narco death | 

Colombia's infamous Cali Cartel founder Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela dies in US prison

Rodriguez Orejuela was nicknamed 'the Chess Player' for his talent at staying one step ahead of the law

Colombian drug trafficker Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela leaves the Combita maximum security prison, in Tunja, Colombia (AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)

Niall Donald

The founder of a notorious Colombian drugs cartel which once controlled the majority of the world's cocaine trade has died in a US prison aged 83.

Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela was a founding member of the Cali Cartel and became a billionaire trafficking cocaine across the globe.

Along with his brother, Miguel, Rodriguez Orejuela and the Cali Cartel developed a near-monopoly on the world's cocaine trade after taking over from Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel.

Nicknamed 'the Chess Player' for his talent at staying one step ahead of the law, Rodriguez Orejuela - unlike Escobar - shunned the limelight and tried to portray himself as a respectable businessman.

While the Cali Cartel ruthlessly executed their enemies, they preferred to use bribes to pay off politicians and police to allow them to avoid prosecution.

According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Cali Cartel was responsible for 80 per cent of the world’s total cocaine trade by the mid-1990s.

In 2020, Rodriguez Orejuela, who was battling cancer, sought an early release from a Butner, North Carolina prison.

However, a Florida federal court judge rejected the 83-year-old's argument and he was forced to remain in prison.

"We were very sad to learn about his passing last night. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time," attorney David O. Markus said Wednesday.

"God has a new chess partner," the lawyer said, referring to Rodríguez Orejuela's nickname.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Cali Cartel smuggled tons of cocaine from Colombia to the US and established agents in New York and Europe.

Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela

In 1995, the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers were captured and sent to prison in Colombia.

Under Colombian law at that time, the extradition of its citizens was banned, however, the law was changed in 1997 under pressure fro US officials.

The brothers were found to have been continuing to traffic cocaine from their jail cells and criminal charges were filed in Miami and New York.

Gilberto was extradited to Miami in December 2004 and Miguel was turned over the following year.

The Rodríguez Orejuela brothers' life and crimes recently featured in Netflix Narcos series.


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