Colombia’s top prosecutor says that Madrid-based businessman Guillermo León Acevedo Giraldo is “Memo Fantasma,” confirming InSight Crime’s investigation into the identity of the elusive drug lord and paramilitary commander.
Attorney General Francisco Barbosa said in a May 26 interview with Colombia’s W Radio that an investigation into Memo Fantasma’s assets and identity led to the conclusion that this “person corresponds to Guillermo León Acevedo Giraldo.” His identity is included in an April 13 judicial police report, Barbosa said.
Memo Fantasma led the Central Bolívar Bloc (Bloque Central Bolívar – BCB) of Colombia’s largest paramilitary group, the United Self Defense Forces (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC), from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s. But he never turned himself in to the Justice and Peace tribunals that were set up to oversee the AUC’s demobilization in early 2006.
Around 2011 and 2012, according to Barbosa, demobilized AUC members gave testimony about the paramilitary commander, known as both “Sebastián Colmenares” and “Memo Fantasma.” From there, authorities in the Attorney General’s Office opened up two investigations to track down properties belonging to the man who would become known as Memo Fantasma.
As InSight Crime previously reported, Guillermo Acevedo was tied to a company known as Inversiones El Cipres SA, which was engaged in property development. This company eventually created a trust with Hitos Urbanos Limitada — whose shareholders included Colombia’s Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez and her husband, Álvaro Rincón — to construct the luxury Torre 85 office building in the Colombian capital of Bogotá. The land used for the property featured seven plots that belonged to Memo Fantasma’s mother, grandmother and Inversiones El Cipres SA, documents show.
Rincón admitted to working with Guillermo Acevedo on the Torre 85 project, but said he had no idea about his past. Barbosa said in the interview that Rincón has been summoned to give a sworn statement to authorities about those business dealings. Vice President Ramírez has said she was not familiar with Acevedo and that she played no part in her husband’s business.
Guillermo Acevedo previously lodged a criminal complaint against InSight Crime Co-director Jeremy McDermott through the Bogotá-based law firm of David Espinosa Acuña, denying allegations that he is Memo Fantasma. When asked about the Attorney General’s statements, his lawyer said no comment late Tuesday.
InSight Crime Analysis
Memo Fantasma managed to remain an “invisible,” a major organized crime figure who stayed under the radar of authorities through legitimate business deals, until InSight Crime began to investigate.
In a two-year investigation carried out across Colombia, the United States and Spain, Memo Fantasma was tracked down through business filings, testimony from former guerrillas of the Central Bolívar Bloc — including Carlos Mateus, alias “Paquita,” and Germán Senna Pico, alias “Nico” — as well as through photo evidence confirmed by former prosecutor Cruz Elena Aguilar.
Memo Fantasma achieved anonymity by hiding behind aliases such as “Sebastián Colmenares,” the name he used to sign the AUC’s “Unidad por la Paz” statement, which InSight Crime obtained. The AUC presented this document to the government in 2004 to announce its intention to reach a peace agreement. Other signatories included notorious paramilitary leaders Carlos and Vicente Castaño, as well as Javier Montañez, alias “Macaco.”
In his interview, Attorney General Barbosa linked Memo Fantasma directly to Macaco, saying that Memo Fantasma operated as a “kind of financial administrator for the [Central Bolívar Bloc]” starting around 1998.
Memo Fantasma directed the group’s money laundering and drug trafficking activities, while Macaco managed military operations, InSight Crime detailed in the third part of the investigation. Over time, the Central Bolívar Bloc became the AUC’s strongest unit, controlling key swaths of drug trafficking territory throughout the country.
Despite Memo Fantasma’s importance within the AUC’s ranks, he never demobilized with the group. Instead, he went on to set himself up as a businessman and property investor in elite Colombian circles before departing for Europe.
After discovering that Memo Fantasma had left Colombia for Spain, InSight Crime was able to track him down in Madrid after searching through company databases and consulting with Spanish authorities. InSight Crime investigators attempted to speak with Guillermo Acevedo at his office and residence, but were turned away and prevented from doing so. Eventually, InSight Crime spoke with Acevedo over the phone, where he denied being alias “Memo Fantasma” or “Sebastián Colmenares.” InSight Crime and Acevedo went on to exchange a number of emails, but he continued denying being a paramilitary leader or drug trafficker.
However, Attorney General Barbosa makes clear in his interview that Sebastián Colmenares, Memo Fantasma and Guillermo León Acevedo Giraldo are indeed the same person. As a result, there are currently two open investigations into suspected criminal activity. One of these targets his assets — many of which are in the hands of relatives — while the public will have access to more information on the other in the coming days, according to Barbosa.