People: Lord of the Skies dies - or does he?

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The Independent Online
He was known as "the Lord of the Skies", a Mexican peasant who outplayed the Cali cocaine cartel at its own game and ended up with an estimated $25bn fortune. His rival tried often to kill him but in the end he died, his family said, during plastic surgery to alter his appearance to elude the law.

Amado Carrillo Fuentes (right), 42, described by US anti-narcotics agents as the most powerful drug lord in the Americas, died of a heart attack on Friday while being operated on, under an alias, in a Mexico City hospital. Or did he?

While Mexican anti-narcotics agents confirmed his family's version - some viewed the body - US officials and many Mexicans wondered whether the most-wanted Mexican had used a lookalike cadaver to fake his own death and disappear from view.

If it was a hoax, it was pure Hollywood. Limousines carrying well-dressed businessmen, apparently drug lords, pulled up outside his mother's home in the town of Guamuchilito in the northern state of Sinaloa after the body was flown home. They kissed his mother, left wreaths and drove off.

There was also speculation that he had been discreetly assassinated by a rival cartel. He had escaped several attempts, once leaping from a bathroom window in a Mexico City seafood restaurant as off-duty policemen hired by a rival riddled the place with machine-gun fire and killed four of his nine bodyguards.

If he really died, US agents predict a bloody turf war among rival cartels and repercussions among corrupt local, state and even federal Mexican officials.

Carrillo Fuentes headed the so-called Juarez cartel, based in Ciudad Jurez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. After at first taking only cash from the Cali cartels for smuggling their cocaine across the border, he muscled into the big time in the Eighties by by-passing the Columbians and buying cocaine directly from producers in Bolivia and Peru.

He won the nickname "Lord of the Skies" when he bought a fleet of French Caravelle airliners, removed the seats and shipped tons of cocaine from Colombia to airstrips on his ranches before moving it across the border into the US.