One of Colombia's biggest drug traffickers, in an interview broadcast Monday, claimed credit for the 1993 killing of rival drug lord Pablo Escobar, saying he supplied police with a tracking device that allowed them to hunt down the infamous trafficker.
In a lengthy radio interview, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela said he was personally threatened by Escobar and described in detail for the first time the extent to which he helped the Colombian government hunt down their common enemy.
Escobar was killed on Dec. 2, 1993, after police found him by using a device that pinpointed the location of a telephone he was using. Authorities have acknowledged using information from Rodriguez Orejuela's Cali cartel in their hunt for Escobar, who was waging a bloody terrorist campaign to combat extradition to the US.
The comments by Rodriguez Orejuela, who was extradited to the US over the weekend, marked the first time anyone has said the Cali cartel provided the equipment that led to Escobar's death. The interview was taped days before Rodriguez Orejuela was flown to Miami but not broadcast until Monday.
"There is a device that's called Direction Finder, which at that time was unknown in Colombia," Rodriguez Orejuela said. "The police didn't have it. We obtained it ... We gave it to them and gave them information about Pablo Escobar."
Retired General Hugo Martinez, who headed the elite police unit that killed Escobar after hunting him for months, said he was unaware of any equipment donated by Rodriguez Orejuela.
"It really surprised me to learn that the equipment ... was his property," Martinez told a radio interviewer Monday. "I didn't know that."
Pressed further, Martinez denied the police had received equipment from Rodriguez Orejuela.
"It's not true," Martinez said. "It was government equipment."
Mark Bowden, author of the best seller Killing Pablo, which tells of the hunt for Escobar, said Monday that Rodriguez Orejuela's claims are believable.
"It's entirely possible," Bowden said in a telephone interview from Pennsylvania. "Essentially the government of Colombia got in bed with the Cali cartel to get Escobar."
Rodriguez Orejuela, in the interview with the radio station W, said he opened a communications channel to then President Virgilio Barco, who died in 1997, after being threatened by Escobar in 1987.
The Cali drug lord said he wanted to give the government information about Escobar in order to bring down his rival. Rodriguez Orejuela said the Cali cartel also gave "logistical assistance" to the Search Bloc, the police unit that hunted and killed Escobar in his home city of Medellin.
His voice cracking with emotion, Rodriguez Orejuela insisted he is innocent of US charges he continued trafficking after 1997, when he was in a Colombian prison.
But he apologized for having trafficked cocaine before then. The Cali cartel, run by Rodriguez Orejuela and his brother Miguel, controlled 80 percent of the world's cocaine trade during its heyday in the mid 1990s.
"I want to ask for forgiveness," Rodriguez Orejuela said in the interview. "The truth is that I am very sorry."