Nobody wants to buy the drug traffickers’ toys

Hundreds of confiscated assets from drug traffickers, paramilitaries and guerillas have become a headache for the Colombian government.

A rare black collectible Ferrari with just 800 kilometers on the odometer. Three commercial airplanes each with a capacity of 180 passengers. A special edition Jaguar car. One hundred pairs of shoes by exclusive brands such as Cartier, Chanel and Moschino. Ranches extending for hundreds of acres of some of the best land in the country. An expensive BMW sports motorcycle.
These are just a few of the assets that the Colombian Justice Department has confiscated from drug traffickers, paramilitaries and guerillas during the last decade. The majority were some of the objects and properties most cherished by mafia capos and commanders and today are under the administration and custody of the Dirección Nacional de Estupefacientes (DNE), the national office on drug control. But these assets, considered “trophies” in the fight against crime, have become a headache for the government. The reasons are simple: nobody knows what to do with them and nobody wants to be burdened with those items.

The DNE administrates more than 85,000 confiscated assets from the mafia. These include apartments, ranches, vehicles, airplanes and even companies and store chains. While judges impound those assets, the DNE administers them and, through public processes, can award custody for them and thus generate important resources for the government. Once impounded, those assets become government property that can, for example, be sold in auctions or can be used by government entities. The great complication that the DNE has is that there are so many assets and properties, some of which are already in government hands, and others that are in judicial processes.

One of the properties that has been in the possession of the DNE for the longest time is the gigantic house that belonged to one of the founders of the Medellín cartel, Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, alias “El Mexicano,” or “The Mexican.” The property takes up almost a complete block in the exclusive sector of Calle 86 with Carrera 8 in the north of Bogotá. Despite the fact that the house being destroyed, as it fell victim in the 1990s to people who broke floors and walls looking for stashes of dollars, the lot is valued at more than $15 billion pesos ($6.5 million USD). The problem is that it has never been able to be sold. “The Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial (POT), urban planning guidelines, specifies that the house can only be sold to be used by an embassy and obviously it is unlikely that any government would want to have its embassy in the house of “El Mexicano,” a DNE official tells SEMANA.

For different reasons, the issue of automobiles has been one of the most problematic. One of the most prized possessions of Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamante, alias “Rasguño,” or “Scratch,” one of the leaders of the Norte del Valle cartel who was extradited to the United States, is parked in the DNE headquarters. The car is a 1991 model black Ferrari with only 800 kilometers, valued in the international market at $250,000 USD. Despite that it is practically unused, nobody wants it. It can’t be handed over to any government entity and the individuals who could buy it won’t for fear of an eventual reprisal by those close to “Rasguño,” says the DNE official.
A similar case has occurred with the Jaguar special edition car, of which less than 100 were built, and two brand new Smart cars, that were confiscated from Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, alias “Chupeta.” “It is practically impossible to award custody of or to try to sell those vehicles, since people are afraid of having those cars,” says the official. It is that fear that is one of the big limitations for the government to sell or use confiscated assets from the mafia. Of 4,700 ranches that the DNE administers, nearly 1,000 are located in areas with security problems, and are practically abandoned.

Apart from the fear of acquiring mafia assets, the other big inconvenience with some of those properties is simply that nobody is interested in acquiring them. Such is the case of the 100 pairs of well-known brand name shoes that belonged to Elizabeth Montoya de Sarria, known as the “Monita retrechera,” or the “feisty blonde,” who was the assassinated wife of a convicted drug trafficker. Several paintings of her, as well as an exotic collection of bronze and gold cups remain in storage and it has been impossible to find a buyer. The same occurs with a painting that the extradited Justo Pastor Perafán had made in which he appears together with Pablo Escobar and “El Mexicano.” These are just a few of the inheritances that the government has from its fight against the mafia. It is an inheritance that, like true love, can’t be bought or sold.