Portfolio


Arming the Drug Wars

CONDE NAST PORTFOLIO

July 2008

By James Verini

Alfredo Beltrán Leyva was arrested on January 21 in Culiacán, capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa. The circumstances of his arrest lived up to his high standing in Mexico’s criminal underground, caught, as he was, driving a BMW S.U.V. in which federal police found eight pistols, an AK-47 assault rifle, and two suitcases containing about $900,000 in cash. Until his arrest, Beltrán Leyva was a top lieutenant in what may be the most profitable and far-reaching drug-trafficking organization in the world: the Sinaloa cartel, presided over by Joaquín Guzmán, often referred to as Mexico’s Pablo Escobar. Beltrán Leyva—known as El Mochomo after a vicious night-crawling ant—is thought by police to have been a Guzmán favorite, carrying out multiple murders while moving tons of drugs and millions of dollars for him. See Full Story


Putin’s Power Grab

CONDE NAST PORTFOLIO

December 2007

by James Verini

Even in August, a visitor to Sakhalin Island, off the eastern shores of Russia, can detect a chill in the air. The pine and birch forests are still a brilliant green, the sky azure and cloudless, but intimations of the island’s savage Siberian winter are already here. Katerina Lekomtseva, a veteran of 28 such winters, shivers as she stands on a hill above Aniva Bay, on Sakhalin’s southern coast. When Lekomtseva was a child, during the death throes of the Soviet Union, there were constant electricity shortages, and she and her father would sit in the candlelight playing a game called In Town. He would name a city, and she would name another beginning with the last letter of the city he mentioned. After her father, who hadn’t yet given up on the U.S.S.R., would say “Moscow,” Lekomtseva, who had accepted her country’s eventual demise, would counter with “Washington.” Then she would imagine how wonderful Washington must be: no electricity shortages, no candles. “I hated that game,” she tells me. See Full Story