Skip to main content

How rich was Pablo Escobar? 5 facts about the infamous drug lord

Pablo Escobar's mugshot
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Pablo Escobar was the infamous CEO of a sprawling criminal conglomerate. And, like any other top-ranking CEO straddling a multi-billion-dollar empire, he made it to the Forbes rich list - seven consecutive times!

But just how rich was he? And is it true that he had his own custom-made prison? Here are some essential facts about the Colombian drug lord who was dubbed the ‘King of Cocaine’.

1. How much money did Pablo Escobar have?

He was the farmer’s son who became a petty criminal… and then wound up heading the all-powerful Medellin Cartel, which at its height was smuggling around 15 tons of cocaine into the United States every single day. Monumental amounts of white powder meant monumental profits for Pablo Escobar, and it’s generally thought he was worth between $25-$30 billion in his prime.

There was so much unlaundered cash to deal with, the cartel had to spend around $2,500 a month just on the rubber bands to hold the notes together. Storage was a problem too. As the drug baron’s brother Roberto would later put it, “Pablo was earning so much that each year we would write off 10% of the money because the rats would eat it in storage or it would be damaged by water or lost.”

2. Did Pablo Escobar meet El Chapo?

If there’s one other drug lord who ranks alongside Pablo Escobar in infamy, it’s surely El Chapo, who headed up the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. But did the two men actually meet?

Although the Netflix drama El Chapo depicts a young, plucky, and practically unknown El Chapo boldly strutting into Escobar’s home for an audience with the senior kingpin, this would have been considered a fatal breach of criminal etiquette in real life.

In an interview with Hollywood star Sean Penn, El Chapo did claim that he met Escobar once at his “big house”, but some others have disputed this story. The truth is, it’s impossible to know for sure whether they crossed paths during their brutal careers.

3. Did Pablo Escobar build his own prison?

Escobar’s violent exploits finally caught up with him in 1991, when he was sent to prison – sort of. Striking an almost farcical deal with the Colombian government, Escobar was permitted to create his own lavish ‘prison’ complex, which featured a sauna, jacuzzi, and swimming pool complete with a waterfall.

Dubbed ‘La Catedral’, it also had its own nightclub, perfect for parties with friends and sex workers. One guest of honour was football legend Diego Maradona, who had a kick about on the prison’s football pitch before a shindig with “the most beautiful girls [he had] ever seen in [his] life”.

The authorities’ patience with Escobar ran out when he allegedly had some of his workers killed at La Catedral. It was decided to have him moved to a conventional prison, prompting the kingpin to escape his designer fortress and become a fugitive on the run.

4. How did Pablo Escobar get caught?

Escobar finally met his end not too long after he escaped from La Catedral. It was on 2nd December 1993, one day after his birthday, that he was tracked to a house in the Colombian city of Medellin. The hiding place was stormed by members of the Search Bloc, a special police unit tasked with hunting down drug lords. Escobar was apparently gunned down while attempting to flee across a neighbour’s roof,

His death remains controversial. Some believe he wasn’t shot while running but was in fact coldly executed. Others, including Escobar’s son, believe he committed suicide to avoid being carted off to prison.

5. What happened to Pablo Escobar’s money?

Following Escobar’s messy death, many of his assets – including properties like his sprawling Hacienda Napoles estate – were seized by the Colombian government. However, there are conflicting accounts of what happened to the rest of his fortune, and it’s unclear how much he had in liquid assets at the time of his death.

There are plenty of rumours that bags of hidden money are still scattered around Medellin and beyond. The mystery of the Escobar fortune hit the headlines as recently as 2020 when one of his nephews reported discovering $18 million stashed in the wall of one of the drug lord’s old properties.