InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was spearheaded by Co-director Jeremy McDermott.
Judges for the national journalism prize — one of the most highly regarded in Colombia — announced the winners on November 19. InSight Crime’s groundbreaking investigation, titled “The Invisible Drug Lord: Hunting ‘The Ghost,’” took home the prize for investigative journalism in print.
The headline-grabbing six-part series centered on Madrid-based businessman Guillermo León Acevedo Giraldo, also known as “Memo Fantasma,” a former drug trafficker and leader of the brutal paramilitary army known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia — AUC).
Over the course of two years of fieldwork across Colombia, Europe and the United States, InSight Crime investigators tracked Acevedo’s start in the Medellín Cartel, his ascent to leading the infamous Central Bolívar Bloc (Bloque Central Bolívar — BCB) of the AUC and worming his way out of the paramilitary demobilization process before disappearing into Europe to live the high life in Madrid.
The investigation garnered significant attention in Colombia as it uncovered business dealings that Acevedo entered into with a company part-owned by Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez and run by her husband, Álvaro Rincón. Acevedo sold property to the company, Hitos Urbanos, as part of the high-profile construction of the Torre 85 office building in downtown Bogotá, which Rincón had spearheaded.
Both Acevedo and Vice President Ramírez threatened InSight Crime with legal action, but those complaints were ultimately withdrawn. Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office later confirmed InSight Crime’s findings shortly after they were first published in March 2020.
“After the threats of legal action from both Guillermo Acevedo and Vice President Ramírez, the receiving of the Simón Bolívar prize for investigative journalism is a reassurance to us that we were on the right track,” McDermott said.
“It reaffirms our belief in the importance of speaking truth to power and following the story no matter where it takes us.”