Mexico drug lord on Forbes rich list with $1 billion

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s most wanted man Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, blamed for thousands of deaths in a drug war, has made it onto the Forbes Magazine list of the world’s richest people with an estimated $1 billion fortune.

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

“He is not available for interviews,” Luisa Kroll, senior editor of Forbes, said Wednesday. “But his financial situation is doing quite well.”

Forbes placed Guzman at 701 on its list, tied with dozens of others worldwide with riches of some $1 billion.

Guzman, 51, who officials believe changes his cell phone every day to avoid being tracked, is often compared to the late Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar, whom Forbes has said amassed a fortune of $3 billion before he was killed by police in 1993.

The Mexican smuggler is “basically one of the biggest providers of cocaine to the United States,” Kroll said. The magazine based its tally of his fortune on estimates from drug-trade analysts and U.S. government data.

Guzman’s prison escape and ability to elude capture for eight years are an embarrassment to the Mexican government.

He has outwitted four major government drives to find him between 2002 and 2007. His escapades are the stuff of legend in the areas he controls and in popular “narcocorrido” songs that glorify drug traffickers.

Mexico’s attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora, told Reuters last week that defeating Guzman’s cartel of traffickers from the Pacific state of Sinaloa was a priority in President Felipe Calderon’s army-backed drug fight.

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

Forbes said Mexican and Colombian traffickers laundered between $18 billion and $39 billion in proceeds from wholesale drugs shipments to the United States in 2008.

Guzman and his operation likely grossed 20 percent of that -- enough for him to have pocketed $1 billion over his career and earn a spot on the billionaire’s list for the first time.

About 90 percent of all cocaine consumed in the United States comes through Mexico. It also is a major source of heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana in the United States.