The director of Colombia's tax and customs agency has resigned and left the country after stating he had received death threats from a shadowy businessman with alleged ties to Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel and a criminal history spanning at least two decades.
In an interview with Blu Radio on June 20, several weeks before he left the country, the Director of Colombia's National Directorate of Taxes and Customs (DIAN), Juan Ricardo Ortega, stated that the man who threatened him runs a textile contraband network in Panama and Colombia. He added that the individual previously laundered money for Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel and worked with the Norte Del Valle Cartel. Ortega said the man uses several identities, including the names Jean Ibrahim Figali and Jean Kaiser Fhegali.
According to Semana magazine, former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli has received death threats from the same individual.
In spite of his alleged criminal history, there are currently no arrest warrants out for Figali. Asked by Blu Radio who was protecting Figali from prosecution, Ortega responded, "I think he is protected on an international level."
InSight Crime Analysis
Semana Magazine has identified Jean Figali as a man who went by the name of John Nasser during the era of the Medellin Cartel. A former DEA agent who infiltrated the cartel, Robert Mazur, wrote in a book that Figali was a major player in the criminal underworld and had the protection of law enforcement agents and politicians.
In 1992, Spanish authorities issued an international arrest warrant for two Colombian drug traffickers, including a man identified as "Jon Nasser," who had allegedly set up a drug trafficking network in Spain for the Bogota Cartel. Four years later, in an El Tiempo article, Nasser was identified as one of the leaders of the Coast Cartel, a criminal organization that operated smuggling networks on Colombia's Caribbean coast.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Panama
Figali appears to have had business operations in Panama since at least the early 1990s. He allegedly had close ties to former Panamanian president Mireya Moscoso, who gave him a concession for the commercial exploitation of a zone of the Panama Canal.
Figali was also mentioned in a 2007 Wikileaks cable from the US Embassy in Panama, which identified him as "an established money launderer" who had worked for Pablo Escobar. Figali was accused of money laundering in 2010, but acquitted in 2011.
Although Ortega did not state Figali's reasons for targeting him, the former director of the DIAN made a point of combating contraband and money laundering during his tenure, which may have brought him into conflict with Figali's interests.