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City Struggles to Bury Ghost of Drug Lord – Opinion – Pulselive.co.ke

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MEDELLÍN, Colombia — When the mayor of Medellín showed up, he was bearing a sledgehammer.

He stood with it in front of the former home of Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord whose cocaine empire once placed him on lists of the world’s richest and most wanted.

Escobar lived for years in the Monaco Building, a white, six-story edifice with a penthouse apartment on top and his family name still inscribed in fading letters on the exterior.

The building was bombed in 1988 by Escobar’s rivals, and not long afterward, he abandoned it. Weeds grew in cracks in the driveway. A satellite dish collected old leaves. And for a while, Medellín could ignore the now-empty Monaco.

Recently, however, attention to the building has returned, piqued by scores of international books, telenovelas and movies about Escobar.

Tourists now sidle up to the gate, snapping photos and posting them on Instagram. Tour guides stop by. A former cartel hit man-turned-YouTube-star appeared, offering DVDs recounting his exploits with Escobar and anecdotes from the day the building was attacked.

In April, fed up, the mayor intervened.

“This symbol, which is a symbol of illegality, of evil, will be brought to the ground,” said Federico Gutiérrez. The mayor vowed to topple the building by next year and to put a park remembering victims in its place.

How the Monaco Building went from relative obscurity, to global tourist draw, to one of the most publicized demolition projects in Colombia speaks to the uneasy relationship Medellín has with Escobar, the city’s most notorious son. Twenty-five years after he was killed in a police shootout on a Medellín rooftop, the city cannot forget him, no matter how much it might want his legend buried away.

The conflicting response to the building — municipal embarrassment or photo opportunity — is also a prime example of how Medellín still struggles over the Escobar narrative. Who gets to tell this history of the drug wars? Where is it told — in the streets or in museums? And who are the protagonists — the villains or the victims?

I came to live in this city eight months ago. But I first became familiar with Medellín as a child in the early 1990s. It was the height of Escobar’s terror campaigns to protect his multibillion-dollar drug business, and the grisly consequences were shown on the evening news in the United States. Decades later, I was drawn to cover how Medellín had managed to turn the page on its violent past.

The city has become a boomtown where international architects compete to build prestige projects and well-funded technology startups proliferate next to trendy restaurants. Colombia’s metro runs the length of the city; escalators thread the barrios that climb up the sides of the lush valley where the city sits.

Medellín’s residents, a famously proud clan known as paisas, are the first to tell you where their city has advanced to.

But they are the last to mention where it has advanced from — the depths of the cocaine era that brought not only the horror of Escobar but also the money that built its skyline, including the Monaco.

“Paisas say, ‘Dirty clothes should be washed at home,’” Juan Mosquera, a writer in Medellín, told me over lunch when we discussed why local residents avoid even mentioning the Monaco. “It was a mansion of horror. His family didn’t just live there; they killed and tortured people, and they planned the biggest blows toward the city.”

If the city wanted to keep its soiled laundry private, the popular Netflix series “Narcos,” whose first two seasons chronicled the rise and ruin of Escobar, exposed it to millions of global viewers.

Medellín resisted the show from the start. Film crews had trouble getting permission to work in the city, and just hearing the name of the series makes my neighbors bristle.

But the city itself was a key character in “Narcos,” and fans of the show come to Medellín in droves, seeking more stories of Escobar’s life. Must-see stops include Hacienda Nápoles, his ranch outside town; his grave; and La Catedral, the prison built to his specifications.

Daniel Vásquez, who heads public outreach at the Memory House Museum in Medellín, seemed exasperated when I asked why visitors are more interested in the life of the city’s top villain than in visiting this institution dedicated to the victims of the city’s armed conflicts over the past 50 years.

“Pablo Escobar has become the pop icon of this story,” Vásquez said. “The city saw no urgency to tell this part of history. It wasn’t a priority for the government until there was a problem, until suddenly you had narco-tours led by Popeye.”

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“Popeye,” the alias of Jhon Jairo Velásquez, a hit man for Escobar, began hawking DVDs and hosting tours of the city after his release from prison in 2016. He also created a side business as a YouTube personality with a channel called “Repentant Popeye.”

In a city still smarting from Escobar’s wounds, the hit man seemed to be anything but sorry. In one video series, “Famous Tombs,” Velásquez goes to the graves of his victims, narrating how he murdered them.

“Here we have Carlos Mauro Hoyos. We kidnapped him in 1988,” says Velásquez, standing at the headstone of Colombia’s former attorney general, explaining how Hoyos was wounded in the leg when he was ambushed and later killed.

“It’s like if members of al-Qaida gave tours in New York about how they had planned 9/11,” said Luis Hernando Mejía, who represents the neighbors association that includes the Monaco, where Popeye would begin his tours.

Popeye was rearrested this May on charges that included extortion.

Héctor Abad, one of the country’s most popular novelists, told me on a visit to his apartment about his father’s killing by a paramilitary group the year before the Monaco was attacked. He said a girlfriend once showed him the scars across her back that came from an Escobar bombing.

And he offered his own home as evidence that no building in Medellín seemed untouched by past crimes. Shortly after he bought the apartment, he found a cache of gold ingots and counterfeit money hidden in a wall.

“You move a brick, and you find a skeleton,” Abad said.

He looked down the hill from his balcony toward where the Monaco — a “cursed building,” he said — sat awaiting the mayor’s wrecking ball. “If someone gave it to me, I would refuse.”

When I caught up with Gutiérrez, I asked the mayor, 43, about the day the Monaco was bombed.

“What did I feel? Fear,” he said. “Not just fear about what had happened but fear for what we are going to become.”

He paused for a moment.

“Why did I decide as the mayor to destroy the Monaco?” he asked himself.

To show that the city had been reborn, he said, and that the law had triumphed over chaos.

But more than anything, he said he wanted to demolish the Monaco because Medellín was sick of telling the same story of the same villain, over and over.

One of the last people I sought out to talk to about the Monaco was Escobar’s son, born Juan Pablo Escobar. He left Colombia after his father was killed, changed his name to Sebastián Marroquín and now works as an architect in Buenos Aires. Marroquín was the only person I could find who was there the day the building was bombed.

At first he said he wanted to talk. But then he stopped answering my emails.

I began to think of what it must have been like for a child to be the son of the country’s richest man, having all six floors of the Monaco for his family, yet with so many threats beyond its walls.

Eventually, I did hear back from Marroquín. I opened the email, thinking perhaps he’d agree to an interview. But he, too, seemed to have had enough of the subject.

“Thanks for your patience,” he wrote. “I’ve been on the road for more than a month. I think we should leave this one for some other time.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Nicholas Casey © 2018 The New York Times



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General

Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

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