BOGOTA -- One of Colombia's biggest drug traffickers, in an interview broadcast yesterday, claimed credit for the 1993 killing of rival drug lord Pablo Escobar, saying he supplied police with a tracking device that allowed them to hunt down the Medellin drug cartel leader.
In a radio interview taped shortly before he was extradited to Miami over the weekend, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela described in detail for the first time the extent to which he helped the Colombian government hunt down their common enemy.
Escobar was killed on Dec. 2, 1993, after police found him with the help of a device that pinpointed the location of a telephone he had been using. Authorities have acknowledged they used information from Rodriguez Orejuela's Cali cartel in the hunt for Escobar, who was waging a bloody campaign to combat extradition to the United States.
But Rodriguez Orejuela's comments marked the first time anyone has said the Cali cartel provided the equipment that led to Escobar's death.
"There is a device that's called a direction finder, which at that time was unknown in Colombia," Rodriguez Orejuela said. "The police didn't have it. We obtained it . . . We gave it to them and gave them information about Pablo Escobar."
Retired General Hugo Martinez, who headed the elite police unit that killed Escobar after hunting him for months, said he was unaware of any equipment provided by Rodriguez Orejuela.
Martinez denied the police had received equipment from Rodriguez Orejuela. "It's not true," Martinez said. "It was government equipment."
Mark Bowden, author of the best seller "Killing Pablo," which describes the hunt for Escobar, said yesterday that Rodriguez Orejuela's claims are believable. "Essentially, the government of Colombia got in bed with the Cali cartel to get Escobar," he said.
Rodriguez Orejuela, in the interview with the radio station W, said he opened a communications channel to then President Virgilio Barco, who died in 1997. The Cali drug lord said he wanted to give the government information about Escobar in order to bring down his rival. He said the Cali cartel also gave "logistical assistance" to the Search Bloc, the police unit that killed Escobar.