Drug Trafficker, Family Held Shares in Colombia’s Buenaventura Port

Published: 14 November 2023

Puerto de buenaventura

Puerto de Buenaventura, Colombia. (Photo: Jimysantandef, Wikimedia, License)

By OCCRP

Documents surrounding the pending trial of seven people from a Colombian drug trafficker’s family and his lawyer allegedly show money laundering through one of the country’s key export hubs.

A company that runs Buenaventura, Colombia’s main Pacific port, has been infiltrated by a drug trafficker and his family, according to a new investigation by OCCRP partner Cuestión Pública.

Documents show that 580,000 shares in the port management firm were held for years by the man and his family, while his heirs hold a minor stake in the firm today.

The revelations about the port, which police call a global transit point for shipments of cocaine, were contained in the NarcoFiles, a new investigation by OCCRP and partners. The project stemmed from a leak within the Colombian prosecutor’s office, which detailed the case of the port and many other criminal files.

Cuestión Pública traced how confessed trafficker Gustavo Adolfo Vega Archibold, alias “El Vega,” and a networkof relatives became minority shareholders of Sociedad Portuaria Regional de Buenaventura (SPRBUN), a financial investment that has run from 2010 up to the present. The family came to have a seat on the port firm’s board of directors, and thus gained influence over port management.

El Vega died in a U.S. prison in April 2015, a few weeks before being sentenced for drug trafficking, to which he had confessed. A dispute over his estate later saw Colombian prosecutors dismantle an alleged money laundering ring across Colombia’s western Valle del Cauca department. Nine people, including ex-public officials, had assets forfeited in February 2023.

Among the accused are El Vega’s mother, who allegedly assumed control of her son's business and kept tabs on assets he had held in the names of third parties. Others charged include a half brother who, in March 2021, attended the SPRBUN assembly and voted as a shareholder. A former mayor of Buenaventura is also charged, as are other family members who allegedly concealed the illegal fortune.

On Jan. 31, 2012, while he was a shareholder in the port company, El Vega was paid $900,000 for sending 1,963 kilos of cocaine to the U.S. — a crime he later admitted to American authorities. But his alleged gang, known as “Those from the Port,” were not rounded up until years after El Vega’s death.

At present his mother, his uncle and aunt, and his half-brother are under house arrest. His father-in-law has since died. The other accused remain free, with initial hearings scheduled in 2024. According to prosecutors, the defendants hid nearly five billion Colombian pesos — $1.25 million at today’s rates — that had been obtained illicitly by El Vega between 2006 and 2013.

Prosecutors began to close in when El Vega’s father became a witness in 2016, and described how the group worked.

Authorities say the gang bought real estate, vehicles, and company shares, and also loaned people money. Its hidden properties spanned from Buenaventura, on the west coast, to major Colombian cities like Cali and Medellín.

Link to the full story