March 12, 2009 / 10:22 PM / 10 years ago

Mexico blasts Forbes for putting drug lord on list

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s government condemned Forbes Magazine on Thursday for putting the country’s most wanted man, a violent drug lord, on its annual list of the world’s richest people.

Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman made the prestigious business magazine’s list for the first time on Wednesday, sharing the 701st spot at $1 billion in assets. The amount was based on his estimated share of drug shipments to the United States.

Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora accused U.S.-based Forbes of coming to the defense of a criminal and said it was “deplorable” for the publication to compare Guzman with honest and law-abiding business people.

Guzman, who is just 5 feet tall, escaped from prison in 2001 and set off a wave of killings across Mexico in an attempt to dominate the country’s highly lucrative drug trade into the United States.

“I will never accept that a criminal be lauded as someone important, even by a magazine such as Forbes,” Medina Mora said in a statement from Vienna, where he was attending an international drugs meeting.

In an apparent reference to Guzman’s inclusion in the Forbes rankings, Mexican President Felipe Calderon in a speech on Thursday accused foreign magazines of “praising criminals”.

Forbes was not immediately available for comment.

The magazine calculated that Guzman and his cartel likely grossed 20 percent of proceeds laundered by Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers smuggling into the United States in 2008 — enough to give him a fortune of at least $1 billion.

But Medina Mora dismissed the figure. “Forbes’ work is baseless and lacks all methodological rigor. It is utterly speculative,” he said.

Guzman, 51, believed by officials to change his cell phone each day to avoid tracking, is often compared to the late Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, whom Forbes said amassed a $3 billion fortune before he was killed by police in 1993.

Guzman’s ability to elude capture for eight years is an embarrassment to the Mexican government, which is battling to stamp out a wave of drug-related violence that has spread across the country.

Some 7,000 people have been killed since the start of last year as rival gangs fight each other and Mexican security forces. Guzman’s enforcers from the cartel in the Pacific state of Sinaloa are considered to be among the most vicious hitmen.

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