Óscar Malherbe de León

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Óscar Malherbe de León
Born (1964-01-10) 10 January 1964 (age 54)
Other namesEl Licenciado
Martín Becerra Mireles
OccupationGulf Cartel leader
PredecessorJuan García Ábrego
Criminal statusImprisoned

Óscar Malherbe de León (born 10 January 1964) is an imprisoned Mexican drug lord and former high-ranking leader of the Gulf Cartel, a drug trafficking organization. He was the main intermediary of the Gulf Cartel in Colombia, responsible for shipping large sums of cocaine from the Cali Cartel in the 1990s.

Before becoming a drug trafficker, Malherbe worked as a shoeshiner and car washer. He then turned to the auto theft industry and was recruited in 1976 by Casimiro Espinoza Campos (alias El Cacho), a deceased leader of a cell within the Gulf Cartel. His cunningness and ability to kill without remorse made him a notorious figure in the Gulf Cartel in the 1980s. By age 22, the Mexican authorities had charged Malherbe with at least 10 homicides. In 1984, however, his boss was killed by the then-leader of the Gulf Cartel, Juan García Ábrego, who later appointed him as one of his top lieutenants and moneymen. Under García Ábrego, Malherbe coordinated cocaine shipments from Colombia via aircraft into Tamaulipas before they were smuggled by land to the United States.

García Ábrego was arrested in January 1996 and Malherbe became his successor. However, his leadership was short-lived; about a year later on February 1997 in Mexico City, he was apprehended at a shopping center and imprisoned at Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1, where he now serves his sentence.

Early life and career[edit]

Óscar Malherbe de León was born in Mexico on 10 January 1964.[1] Before joining the drug trade, he was a shoeshiner and a car washer for several local drug lords. He then turned to car theft and was later recruited by the crime boss Casimiro Espinoza Campos (alias El Cacho) in 1976 and join the Gulf Cartel.[2][3] Espinoza Campos headed a criminal cell in Matamoros that oversaw the area's auto theft industry, drug trafficking rings, protection rackets, and the cartel's score-settlings. By the 1980s, Malherbe's notoriety within the Gulf Cartel grew because he proved to be a cold-blooded and cunning assassin. At the age of 22, he was indicted by the Public Ministry of Matamoros (Spanish: Ministerio Público de Matamoros) and was alleged to have been involved in at least 10 homicides from 1983 to 1984. The name of the late Luis Medrano García, another leader in the Gulf Cartel arrested in 1993 in Ciudad Juárez, also appeared in the indictment.[3] Medrano and Malherbe usually worked together by supervising the drug trafficking shipments in the corridor of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Both of them had from six to eight armed henchmen watching their backs inside a walled compound from where they hid and gave orders.[4]

In 1984, however, Espinoza Campos's reign underwent a challenge when Juan García Ábrego, the head of the Gulf Cartel, wanted him dead. Their rivalry for the control of the Gulf Cartel prompted several killings in Matamoros, but García Ábrego managed to eventually wound and kill Espinoza Campos in May 1984 to thereby take control of the criminal organization and align it under a single command structure.[5] With Espinoza Campos dead, his gang disintegrated and joined the lines of García Ábrego, marking the beginning of the modern Gulf Cartel.[6][7] Malherbe, once close to Espinoza Campos's gang, went on to work with García Ábrego and later became one of his most trusted lieutenants and moneymen.[8][9] In 1990, Malherbe supervised the Gulf Cartel's cocaine shipments that arrived to the U.S.-Mexico border via aircraft, and was allegedly responsible of arming and handing out uniforms of the Federal Judicial Police to his gunmen. The drugs were supplied by the Rodriguez Orihuela brothers of the Cali Cartel and arrived in clandestine runaways in San Fernando and Matamoros, Tamaulipas. They were then smuggled by land to the United States for future distribution.[10] He was the main enlace (intermediary) of the Gulf Cartel in Colombia, where he held business relations with the top echelons of the Cali Cartel.[11] The supremacy of the Gulf Cartel reached its peak in the 1980s and early 1990s, when it controlled at least one-third of all the cocaine that entered the United States and reportedly made $20 billion annually.[12]

Malherbe's boss headed the Gulf Cartel with a combination of "bribes, brutality and business acumen," and authorities on both sides of the border made him a top priority in the War on Drugs. In 1995, García Ábrego was placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list; a year later in January 1996, he was arrested in a massive operation in northern Mexico and quickly extradited to the United States.[13] Since the last months of 1995, the Gulf Cartel was having difficulty moving drugs into the United States, and only managed to introduced about a ton and a half of cocaine that year. Malherbe responded to this dilemma by forging an alliance with Amado Carrillo Fuentes of the Juárez Cartel, but the business partnership with him was short-lived.[14] With García Ábrego behind bars, his brother Humberto and Malherbe became his successors, though the latter only commanded the Gulf Cartel for a little more than a year.[15]


Malherbe was arrested at a shopping center in the area of Mixcoac in Mexico City on 26 February 1997.[11] Though his request was put down, he reportedly tried to pay off his release by bribing Mexican officials with $2 million USD.[16][17] At the time of his arrest, he had pending accusations on conspiracy to buy, traffic, and sell cocaine and marijuana, alongside charges on homicide and illegal use of firearms under Mexican law.[11][18] He was then sent to the Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1 in Almoloya de Juárez, State of Mexico to serve his sentence.[19] Though the U.S. authorities asked for his extradition to the United States, a Mexican judge ordered Malherbe to be tried in Mexico because he believed that the evidences against him were insufficient.[15]

Kingpin Act sanction[edit]

On 1 June 2001, the United States Department of the Treasury sanctioned Malherbe under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (sometimes referred to simply as the "Kingpin Act"), for his involvement in drug trafficking along with eleven other international criminals.[20] The act prohibited U.S. citizens and companies from doing any kind of business activity with Malherbe, and virtually froze all his assets in the U.S.[21]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Drug Kingpins Bankruptcy Act of 1999". United States Government Printing Office. 9 June 1999. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  2. ^ Moreno 2001, p. 207.
  3. ^ a b (subscription required) Canales, José (2 March 1997). "De lavacoches a 'Capo del narco'". Reforma (in Spanish). Mexico City. Editora El Sol, S.A. de C.V. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  4. ^ Thorpe, Helen (January 1998). "Anatomy of a Drug Cartel". Texas Monthly. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  5. ^ Dillon, Sam (4 February 1996). "Mexican Drug Gang's Reign of Blood". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  6. ^ (subscription required) Canales, José (2 April 1996). "El heredero del cartel". El Norte (Monterrey) (in Spanish). Editora El Sol, S.A. de C.V. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  7. ^ Vulliamy 2010, p. 31.
  8. ^ Grayson 2010, p. 71.
  9. ^ Canales, José (1 March 1997). "¿El fin de una etapa?". El Norte (Monterrey) (in Spanish). Editora El Sol, S.A. de C.V. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  10. ^ (subscription required) Canales, José (1 March 1997). "Los trabajos de Malherbe". El Norte (Monterrey) (in Spanish). Editora El Sol, S.A. de C.V. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  11. ^ a b c "MÉXICO CAPTURA A NARCO ANTES DE SER CERTIFICADO". El Tiempo (Colombia) (in Spanish). 1 March 1997. Archived from the original on 28 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  12. ^ Fainaru, Steve (2 March 1997). "Alleged Cocaine Kingpin Escapes". Sun-Sentinel. The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 31 May 2013. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  13. ^ Dillon, Sam (12 May 1996). "Victory or Deceit? – A special report.; Bribes and Publicity Mark Fall of Mexican Drug Lord". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  14. ^ Bailey 2000, p. 193.
  15. ^ a b "Malherbe de León ya no podrá ser extraditado a EU". La Jornada (in Spanish). 21 May 1999. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  16. ^ "MEXICO NABS DRUG LORD ON EVE OF U.S. DECISION". Deseret News. 28 February 1997. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  17. ^ "A Chronology: Murder, Money, & Mexico". Public Broadcasting Service. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  18. ^ Helms 1999, p. 61.
  19. ^ "Óscar Malherbe, capo del Cártel del Golfo enfrenta nuevos cargos" (in Spanish). Attorney General of Mexico. 6 March 1997. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  20. ^ "DESIGNATIONS PURSUANT TO THE FOREIGN NARCOTICS KINGPIN DESIGNATION ACT" (PDF). United States Department of the Treasury. 15 May 2014. p. 1. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  21. ^ "An overview of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act" (PDF). United States Department of the Treasury. 2009. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 May 2014. Retrieved 28 May 2014.