A top Colombian drug trafficker walked out of a maximum-security prison in Bogotá without ever being challenged, exposing deep-seated corruption and threatening important criminal cases.
On the morning of March 18, Juan Larinson Castro Estupiñán, alias “Matamba,” escaped from prison by wearing a security guard outfit and walking through several security checkpoints, according to Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz on Twitter. Matamba was the former leader of Cordillera Sur, a drug trafficking gang based in the southern department of Nariño, and which was a sub-structure of the larger Urabeños criminal group.
Video footage from the prison released to the media show Matamba, in a uniform, walking past cameras and checkpoints. Prison officials noticed his absence when they performed a daily headcount in the wing where he was housed.
SEE ALSO: Profile of the Urabeños - Gulf Cartel
Matamba maintained strict control over drug trafficking in much of the southwest department of Nariño. He was a reportedly close ally of former Urabeños leader, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” who was captured last October after a multi-year manhunt.
Investigators linked Matamba to cocaine deals with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), dissidents from the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel.
Matamba was captured on May 7, 2021 in the central department of Santander on charges of homicide and extortion, among others.
InSight Crime Analysis
Matamba's escape reveals once again the depths of corruption in Colombian prisons and also puts in jeopardy a number of important criminal cases in which he was involved.
While the investigation into his escape has just begun, it seems difficult to believe that Matamba could have carried out his plan, wearing a prison guard uniform and walking past multiple controls, without inside help.
And La Picota prison is getting quite a reputation. In March, an investigation by Colombian media, Caracol, revealed that Carlos Mattos, a businessman awaiting trial on bribery charges, was going in and out of the prison at will to have private meetings in his office in Bogotá.
Officials inside the prison were found to have been assisting him and Colombia's President Iván Duque fired the head of the country's prison service.
A more severe ramification may be that Matamba's escape weakens the case against high military commanders alleged to have participated in the drug trade. In February, a retired general and two retired colonels were accused of having helped Matamba consolidate control of drug trafficking along the Pacific coast of Nariño by providing him with military intelligence
Matamba had been jailed 14 times in the past and was facing likely extradition to the United States.