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From fine art to rubbish: the stashes of drug traffickers

Colombian government collects drug lords' treasures, from elephant tusks to dented bicycles.

“We’ve sold about 2,000 properties and items for the equivalent of $150 million, which is a lot of money,” said Omar Figueroa, who heads the National Narcotics Department. “We are now making a profit.”

With so many things to keep track of, some officials have taken advantage.

Last year, Figueroa denounced 126 cases of theft, extortion, fraud and money laundering within his own department.

“It’s truly been overwhelming,” Figueroa said in an interview.

But most seized farmland, houses, vehicles, clothing and domestic furnishings remain in legal limbo and have been locked up, fenced off or jammed into warehouses.

Parked in the garage of the Bogota storage facility are cargo trucks seized for transporting acetone, potassium permanganate and other chemicals used to make cocaine and heroin. One wing of the building is filled with plastic-wrapped Louis XV-style sofas that belonged to Elizabeth Montoya, a Cali cartel go-between who was assassinated. Her assemblage of European dress shoes brings to mind the Imelda Marcos collection.

But the warehouse is also stocked with rusty birdcages, broken Christmas creches, dented bicycles and other items that any sane homeowner would hide in the attic or haul to the nearest landfill.

“When there’s an anti-drug operation, everything gets seized,” said Velasco, the warehouse manager. “And as long as the lawsuits continue, we can’t throw away anything.”