Dirty Money: The Richest Drug Lords Of All Time

Drug lords, or ‘kingpins’, are some of the most notorious criminal masterminds of the modern age. They control an extensive network of underlings involved in various stages of the illegal drug trade. While most drug lords conduct their affairs with unsubtle and blatant disregard for the law, it’s notoriously difficult to bring them to justice: The intricate  net beneath the Kingpin means that by the time the money reaches the end of the chain, it’s usually almost impossible to trace responsibility to the drug lord himself.

The Kingpin rarely, if ever, gets his hands dirty. Drug smugglers and dealers are in the firing line and are often apprehended. So, when law enforcers want to crack down on the illegal activity at the source they have to work carefully and slowly to build a concrete case against the drug lord. Police are known to infiltrate the drug cartel with the help of informants and trusted people who have connections to the illegal organization.

During the 1970s, United States President Richard Nixon launched what he called the War on Drugs – an initiative to reduce the production, consumption and distribution of  ’illegal psychoactive drugs’. In his attempt to crack down on the drug trade – or ‘public enemy number one’ – Nixon oversaw spending of more than $1 trillion. But the illegal drug trade was resistant to Nixon’s efforts; according to a report released by the Global Commission on Drug Policy in 2011, the war on drugs failed. Popular opinion among historians holds that the War on Drugs in fact pushed things further underground: the harsh penalties against drug dealers entrenched those susceptible citizens – who had limited means and scant opportunities, and were involved in drug dealing to finance their betterment and education – into a permanent underclass.

According to same Global Commission report, if the United States was to end the War on Drugs and legalize drugs instead, savings on incarceration and enforcement would run to over $40 billion – of course, this was met with opposition from the countless organizations who resist the legalization of drugs. Indeed, the drug lords themselves may well oppose the legalization of illegal narcotics; if the sale of drugs is brought under government control, the billions of dollars in the Kingpins’ pockets would be absorbed as taxes. The Global Commission on Drug Policy estimates that the revenue from legalizing drugs would come to over $45 billion: As long as this multi-billion dollar industry is now in the hands of drug barons, a select few individuals will rake in hundreds of millions annually, while underlings are imprisoned or even die in the process. We’ve compiled a list of ten of the very richest of these Kingpins in the world, with their shocking estimated net worth.

10. Rafael Caro Quintero – $650 million

Former drug lord Rafael operated the now-disintegrated Guadalajara cartel in Mexico. Rafael is one of four brothers all involved in high-value drug deals throughout Mexico. Quintero had numerous huge marijuana farms in Mexico – at one point his cartel was said to control Mexico’s marijuana and opium supplies – and Quintero’s cartel was also heavily involved in the distribution of Columbian cocaine. During the 80s, the Caro Quintero Cartel paid millions of dollars in bribes to law enforcement officials and forged relationships with a number of politicians in the region. Rafael was arrested in 1984 and sentenced to 40 years for the murder of a federal agent, but he was released in August this year after it was determined his trial for murder should have been carried out at state level, not federal level – indeed, this drug lord was never pinned down for his drug crimes, which would have been federal, but was only ever incarcerated for murder. His release, predictably, caused uproar in the United States.

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