After El Chapo: The World’s 10 Most Wanted Drug Lords
This list has been edited to reflect the arrest of Gerson Gálvez Calle, aka Caracol.
Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the world’s most wanted drug lord, was captured on January 8 in his home state of Sinaloa, known as the “cradle of Mexican drug trafficking” because of the large number of infamous narcos born there.
Now that he’s back behind bars,six months after he escaped, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has stamped the word “captured” across his picture on its “most wanted international fugitives” web page.
The page contains just two other names, neither of whom appear to be particularly relevant today.
One is a Colombian named Maria Teresa Osorio de Serna who is wanted for “money laundering and cocaine conspiracy” and is said to have links to Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel. The other is John Alexander Thompson, aka Coach, who is wanted for heroin distribution and is said to be either African or Caribbean, without specifying a country.
Screenshot via D.E.A
DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno told VICE News that the agency was receiving many confused inquiries because of delays in updating its website.
“The fact that Maria Teresa [Osorio de Serna] is one of two people on the international page is more of a function of that not being kept up so well,” she said. “With all the queries we’re getting, we’re going to make sure everybody is where they need to be so people can find them easier.”
In the meantime, here is a brief guide to the world’s most wanted drug lords.
Ismael Zambada García, aka El Mayo – Sinaloa Cartel (Mexico)
Screenshot via D.E.A
Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada is a legendary figure in the Mexican underworld who has reputedly never spent a day in prison. Believed to be in his late 60s, El Mayo has long been considered to be as important a figure in the Sinaloa cartel as El Chapo, though he keeps a much lower profile. Zambada and the Sinaloa cartel are known to traffic a wide range of narcotics, such as domestically produced heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine, while also providing transit for South American cocaine.
Both capos first rose to prominence within the Guadalajara cartel in the 1980s, with El Mayo gathering influence in the 1990s, most of which Chapo spent in jail. The two kingpins teamed up again following Chapo’s first escape from maximum-security jail in 2001 to become leading figures in a broad alliance of Sinaloa groups known then as the Sinaloa Federation. They were both on the same side when the Federation split in 2008.
The elusive El Mayo gave an interview to the news magazine Proceso in 2010 in which he argued that his capture or death would make little different to drug trafficking in Mexico as there would always be others to take his place.
El Mayo has seen several members of his family arrested in recent years, including his brother and three sons. The most important, Vicente Zambada Niebla, was extradited to the US in 2010 and later pled guilty and accepted a plea bargain of a minimum of 10 years in prison. He had originally sought to get out of a trial by arguing that he had negotiated an immunity from prosecution deal in exchange for becoming a DEA informant before his arrest.
Screenshot via D.E.A
Rafael Caro Quintero is one of the Sinaloa-born founders of the Guadalajara cartel who was captured in 1985 in a crackdown launched following the kidnap, torture, and murder of DEA agent Kiki Camarena.
Caro Quintero was sentenced to 40 years in prison, but a judge suddenly released him in August, 2013 on a technicality. By the time new arrest warrants were issued, Caro Quintero was long gone, with most assuming he had headed for the Sinaloa cartel’s bastion in the Sierra Madre.
The release of Caro Quintero triggered expressions of fury in the US, where the Camarena case is a highly sensitive and symbolic issue within law enforcement. The US Treasury Department also repeatedly claimed that businesses associated with his family remained major players in drug money laundering.
Within Sinaloa, some say Caro Quintero resumed a prominent role within the cartel alongside El Mayo and El Chapo.
Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias El Mencho, is the best known leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, known as CJNG in Spanish, which is considered to be the fastest growing criminal organization in Mexico.
It began roughly five years ago, partly from the remnants of other dismantled cartels. It is now considered to be the second most important trafficking organization in Mexico after the Sinaloa cartel, with which it is said to maintain an alliance. The CJNG has made a particular name for themselves in the production of synthetic drugs, especially methamphetamine.
El Mencho and the CJNG received little attention until 2015, when the CJNG carried a series of direct attacks on law enforcement in the state of Jalisco. These included the shooting down of a military helicopter in May.
Since then the pursuit for El Mencho has intensified and the authorities have arrested his brother and son, as well as several other high ranking cartel figures. These captures are believed to have triggered a spike in homicides in Jalisco state.
José Adán Salazar Umaña is one of the presumed leaders of the Texis cartel, said to control several drug smuggling routes through El Salvador that he operates for different Colombian and Mexican cartels.
The DEA mentioned Salazar, who is known as Chepe Diablo, as a suspected drug trafficker and money launderer in 2001. The US Treasury Department added Salazar to their “Kingpin List” in May 2014, designating him as a “foreign narcotics trafficker.”
Chepe Diablo reportedly encourages his operatives not to carry weapons, instead having them rely on corrupt police to provide them with protection. The cartel’s ability to work freely is also allegedly aided by their leader’s links to the Salvadoran business and political world. Chepe Diablo owns a hotel chain and cattle ranches, and is a former president of the first division league of Salvadoran soccer.
The Salvadoran treasury ministry initiated an extensive investigation into Chepe Diablo in 2014 and 2015, but it was shut down by the attorney general’s office.
Investigative reports by journalists in El Salvador suggest the Texis cartel may have been active since the early ’90s, though it remained under the radar until recently.
Screenshot via state.gov
Dario Antonio ‘Otoniel’ Úsuga is the leader of Colombia’s largest and most feared cartel, the Urabeños. The US government offers a reward of $5 million for information leading to his capture.
Otoniel’s organization is based in the coastal region of Urabá, just east of the Panamanian border. Alongside producing and moving cocaine, the organization also runs extortion rackets, and is involved in human trafficking. The Urabeños reportedly maintain strong ties to the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. They are said to receive much of the payment for their cocaine in weapons.
With an estimated 2,000 active members, the Urabeños — also known as Clan Úsaga, after the drug lord — also have a nationwide presence and have fought bloody turf wars with other cartels. The Colombian military and police recently began airstrikes against the group.
A number of Otoniel’s close associates have been captured or killed in recent months.
Screenshot via state.gov
Wei Hseuh-Kang is a top commander with United Wa State Army, a massive narco rebel force that controls vast swaths of territory in eastern Myanmar, a notorious drug producing region known as the Golden Triangle.
The group, which is backed by China, is said to maintain up to 30,000 heavily armed troops, and is described by the DEA as “the dominant heroin trafficking group in Southeast Asia, and possibly worldwide.” They also manufacture huge quantities of meth.
The former DEA director for East Asia described Wei, 63, as “the financial genius” behind the United Wa State Army, “as well as the CEO.” He was one of the first people to be officially labeled a “Drug Kingpin” by American authorities after the Foreign Narcotics Designation Kingpin Act was passed in 1999.
The US has been after him since the early ’90s, and the State Department is offering a $2 million dollar reward for information that leads to the drug lord’s capture. If caught, he faces heroin conspiracy charges in New York.
Screenshot via whitehouse.gov
Haji Lal Jan Ishaqzai became a major Afghan heroin producer in the ’80s and ’90s, eventually moving his stronghold to the southern city of Kandahar in 2001.
The drug lord allegedly lived on the same street as, and received protection from, Ahmed Wali Karzai — the half-brother of then-president Hamid Karzai. Efforts to catch the drug lord became more apparent after Ahmed Karzai was killed in 2011.
Ishaqzai was arrested in 2012, after being one of the United States most wanted 10 kingpins. He escaped two years later after allegedly paying bribes totaling up to $14 million to local officials. Ishaqzai’s disappearance from prison and return to trafficking was a major embarrassment for the Afghan authorities.
Screenshot via Italian interior ministry
Rocco Morabito is is a boss of the ‘ndrangheta — reputedly the most powerful mafia organization in Italy. He grew up in the Calabria region of southern Italy, but later moved to Milan where he was known for throwing expensive parties and was labelled the “the king of cocaine” by the local media.
The ‘ndrangheta is believed to have over 60,000 affiliates across the world with some estimating its turnover as totaling 3.5 percent of Italy’s GDP. Drug trafficking is the ‘ndrangheta’s most profitable business, relying on deep connections with Latin American trafficking groups such as Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.
“El Chapo liked to work with people from Calabrian traffickers because of their harshness,” said anti-mafia magistrate Nicola Gratteri. “He found them more reliable than Colombians or Peruvians.”
Morabito is currently one of the seven “most wanted criminals” named by the Italian police, though there are reports that he may have moved to Brazil where he has sought to tighten his connections with the South American cartels while maintaining his role as a cocaine importer into Europe.
Screenshot via FBI
Semion Mogilevich is reputedly the most important boss within the Russian mafia, considered among the most wide-reaching criminal networks in the world, one in which drug trafficking is just one branch of illegal activities.
Before his death in 2006, poisoned former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko claimed on tape that Mogilevich had a “good relationship” with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The official report on Litvinenko’s death was released this week and stated that Putin “probably” sanctioned the murder of Litvinenko.
Mogilevich, known as the Brainy Don, was arrested for tax evasion in Russia in 2008 but was released the following year. The FBI put Mogilevich on its most wanted list in 2009. The Bureau removed in 2015 saying this was because the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, where he is currently believed to be living freely.
Photo via DEA
According to the DEA, Mihael Karner runs an international steroid trafficking organization along with his wife, Alenka, and his brother, Matevz. The three were indicted in March 2010 in the US District Court of Massachusetts on charges of conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and conspiracy to import controlled substances into the United States.
The Slovenian national allegedly sells steroids on the internet, primarily via the websites Asia Pharma and British Dragon. US authorities say Karner relies on a sophisticated international network of shell companies to launder his illicit steroid earnings, and he has reportedly made more than $50 million by trafficking illegal steroids throughout the world.
Karner and his wife were arrested at their Austrian ski chalet in late 2011, but they were released on bail and promptly disappeared. Investigators suspect they still operate their steroid business in Slovenia, which does not have an extradition treaty with the US. The US Treasury Department added Karner, his brother, and wife to the list of international drug kingpins, and three other key business associates of Karner were also added to the list in 2015.
Since their inclusion on this list, the following have been captured:
Gerson Gálvez Calle, aka Caracol — Barrio King (Peru)
Photo via Peru Police Department
Gerson Gálvez Calle was Peru’s most wanted criminal, and the head of an organization known as Barrio King.
Gálvez, who is known as Caracol, allegedly ran the group’s operations from his prison cell before his release last year after serving 12 years of a 15-year sentence for attempted murder, robbery, and drug trafficking. He immediately went into hiding after his release.
Police sources say Caracol dreams of turning his organization into the country’s first “true cartel” — controlling the cocaine supply chain from field to the consumer — capable of competing with Mexico’s famed trafficking groups.
The Barrio King is alleged to have already shipped hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine hidden in ship containers from Callao, Peru’s largest port, to destinations in Mexico and Europe.
The gang is also allegedly behind a turf war in Callao that left around 140 people dead last year.
Caracol was arrested April 30, 2016, in Colombia.
Follow Nathaniel Janowitz on Twitter: @ngjanowitz
An earlier version of this story misidentified Italian magistrate Nicola Gratteri as Gaterri. The story has been amended.