10 Facts That Reveal Just How Crazy-Rich Pablo Escobar Was During His Reign of Terror
There have been many depictions of the life and times of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, most recently the hit Netflix series Narcos. These books, films, and TV series all reveal a lavish and decadent lifestyle that was secured a private army of that rivaled that of Escobar’s motherland.
But just HOW wealthy was Pablo Escobar?
You may have heard that he was among the richest men in the world during the height of his reign in the 1980s. But he wasn’t just on the list, many believe he sat atop it. Of course, the accounting methods and assets of an expansive drug empire aren’t exactly reported to the SEC, so we’re left with (educated and well-supported) estimates as to the dollar figure behind the the man and the Medellin cartel.
1. He had more cash than his empire could manage
It’s estimated that during the mid-1980s, Escobar’s drug empire was taking in about $420 million per week in revenue. Over the course of a year, that equates to $22 billion. It proved to be such a logistical problem laundering, depositing, and transporting all the drug proceeds that Escobar’s men would often resort to simply burying it in trash bags and crates on his various properties, knowing that no one in their right mind would venture onto the drug lord’s land to dig up his cash.
They kept track of the buried cash using treasure maps, just like pirates did.
2. He was a regular entry on Forbes’ list of the richest people in the world
Forbes acknowledged his wealth on the magazine’s list of international billionaires, which he made for seven years straight from 1987-1993. He placed highest in 1987, listing as the 7th-richest man in the world, almost exclusively through criminal enterprise, though his “legitimate” businesses were incredibly well-funded by the drug proceeds.
3. He practically cornered the world’s market on cocaine
It’s unlikely that, given the underground and illicit nature of the drug trade, a person could have a 100% monopoly on a product, but Pablo came mighty close. Through his economies of scale and quickness to dispatch any potential competitors, It was estimated during the late 80s that 80% of the cocaine in circulation throughout the world was a product of Escobar’s empire.
4. It’s estimated that rats ate billions of his cash
As mentioned previously, Escobar’s revenues in cash were so enormous that storing the cash became a huge issue. Not only would the cartel bury it, but they would put it almost anywhere that would take it, which included farms, warehouses, and gang members’ homes. They were so desperate to find a home for the cash that Roberto Escobar, the kingpin’s brother and accountant for the empire, said in his book, “Pablo was earning so much that each year we would write off 10% of the money because the rats would eat it in storage or it would be damaged by water or lost.”
Even the rodents surrounding the guy were billionaires.
5. He spent more on rubber bands for his cash than most people earn in a year
Again, the scale of cash that passed through the operation was such that even negligible administrative supplies used to collect and store the cash turned into big expenses over the years. For instance, Escobar would budget $2,500 per month just for rubber bands for wads of cash. If it surprises you that he would put that much effort into tracking his expenses, remember that this guy made more than almost every other Fortune 500 CEO on the planet, and those companies used entire departments to track such expenses.
6. He burned cash to keep his daughter warm while on the run
Escobar’s son, Sebastian Marroquin, conveyed just how plentiful money was for Pablo even when he was a fugitive. Sebastian recounted one time in which Pablo and his daughter were holed up in a safehouse in the frigid mountains of Medellin. The daughter began to get cold and, fearing that her health was in danger, Escobar burned $2 million in cash to keep her warm through the night. He reportedly did so without any hesitation or concern for the lost money.
7. Even his lower-level operational employees, like pilots, were millionaires.
Escobar would pay civilian and military pilots $500,000 per trip to help him smuggle his product to wherever he needed it. Considering the value of the cargo, the $500,000 was considered a very reasonable transportation cost. Some pilots would make as many as one trip a week for him. If you’re not inclined to do the math, that’s about $26 million a year in earnings for the pilot.
8. The amount of drugs he sent to the US alone is almost incomprehensible
During the height of the drug’s popularity in the 80s, the Medellin cartel was shipping, on average, 15 tons of cocaine to the United States every day.
9. His charitable contributions to Colombia were so plentiful he was regarded as a national hero
Not only did he provide countless housing developments for his nation’s poor and working class, but he also singlehandedly funded the construction of museums, parks, and 70 soccer fields. He even illegally imported exotic animals to help round out the local zoo’s offerings. It rumored, but not definitively documented, that he experienced more pushback from the government for the animals than he did for much of his early years spent drug trafficking.
10. He offered a truly astronomical sum to the Colombian government to guarantee his freedom
While Escobar resided in Colombia, it was pressure from foreign law enforcement and politicians that concerned him the most. His violent acts were carried out on a global scale, so he was constantly in fear of facing charges in other nations and facing extradition. In an effort to change Colombian extradition laws and policies, Escobar offered to pay off the entirety of the country’s $10 billion national debt.
Granted, many people make promises they’re not capable of keeping in exchange for freedom, but there was little doubt that Escobar would make good if they changed the laws.