BOGOTA, Colombia -- If history's most notorious drug trafficker was such a lowlife, how did he manage to seduce a sophisticated socialite who was a superstar model, actress and TV host?
The question has been obsessing Colombians ever since the former lover of Pablo Escobar surfaced in the United States in July and held up an unflattering mirror to Colombian society by detailing alleged ties between the elite and organized crime.
In an hour-long statement broadcast on Colombia's RCN Television, Virginia Vallejo alleged that Escobar, the leader of the Medellin cocaine cartel until he was killed in a police raid in December 1993, had ties with various prominent Colombians, including two former presidents. Having already named some names, she is reportedly planning to publish a book, and Colombians are excitedly waiting to see who else she will drag through the dirt.
She also supported allegations that veteran politician and former justice minister Alberto Santofimio had urged Escobar to kill Luis Carlos Galán, a leading presidential candidate who crusaded against the drug lords.
"This man is a killer -- the only thing he didn't do was pull the trigger," Vallejo said of Santofimio, who is on trial for his alleged role in the 1989 assassination of Galán, his political rival, by Escobar's hit men.
In this land that produces most of the world's cocaine, Vallejo's affair with Escobar is seen as a telling example of the establishment's easy relationship with drug traffickers: the legitimate businesses that launder drug earnings, the elite social clubs that open their doors to drug lords, and the politicians who exchange favors for briefcases filled with cash.
"The political class, with few exceptions, also went to and continues to get into bed with the mafia," Oscar Collazos said in a column on Vallejo in El Tiempo newspaper.
In her statement, which she taped and delivered to RCN for broadcast after she left Colombia, Vallejo claimed that Escobar maintained close relations with former presidents Belisario Betancur and Alfonso López Michelsen and helped fund López's political campaign. Neither has responded to repeated requests for comment.
Many Colombians wonder how the woman they saw on TV, beautiful and refined at 56, could love a pudgy drug baron with dead, shark-like eyes who was blamed for the murder of thousands of Colombians in the 1980s and 1990s drug wars.
"I fell in love with a philanthropist, a man loved by his people," she said. "He was the only rich man in Colombia who was generous with the people, in this country where the rich have never given a sandwich to the poor."
Colombia would much rather be famous for Gabriel García Márquez, its Nobel literature laureate, but the country's fascination with Escobar is still strong13 years after he was killed on the rooftop of his safe house in Medellin, Colombia's third-largest city.
A recent autobiography by one of his top hit men, known as Popeye, revealed how Escobar thought and how he would relax with marijuana in the company of models who were his girlfriends. Yet another TV documentary, "Pablo Escobar: The Godfather of Death," is about to air.
Vallejo learned, however, that high society might accept the drug lords' money but not their mistresses, especially one who was sleeping with Escobar at a time when he was waging a war of bombings and assassinations to head off his extradition to the United States.
"She was totally cut off," said a friend, filmmaker Gustavo Nieto Roa. "Before, she would have a reception or a cocktail and every important person in the city would attend. But after it became known she was his girlfriend, nobody wanted to be seen with her."
She disappeared from the social pages and was stricken from invitation lists. She was reduced to selling cosmetics to stores, and friends say she had approached them looking for work in recent months.
On July 18, after she first voiced accusations against Santofimio, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spirited her out of Colombia. It isn't saying what help, if any, she has provided its agents, nor revealed any details on her whereabouts.
Gonzalo Guillen, a Bogota-based reporter for the Miami Herald's Spanish-language edition, El Nuevo Herald, who has known her for the past year and has interviewed her, doubts she'll be back.
"If she leaves the United States, it will be to go on to a third country, but she's too scared to return here," he said.