In a surprise move, Nicaragua's authorities detained nightclub owner Henry Fariñas -- the mysterious figure at the heart of the multi-country investigation of the assassination of Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral last July -- when he arrived this week from Guatemala.
As El Nuevo Diario reports, Nicaraguan authorities linked Fariñas (shown in photograph) to investigations into "some illegal activities," but did not elaborate. Strangely, the director of the organized crime unit told the newspaper separately that he did not know of the arrest. Fariñas is not charged with a crime in any country.
Fariñas is the principal owner of the night club chain Elite, which operates in various parts of the region including Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. He was also part of a business team that brought Cabral to Nicaragua and possibly brought him to Guatemala to perform in what would be his last concert.
A group of Guatemalan assassins intercepted Fariñas, Cabral, Cabral's manager and soundman as they made their way to the airport in dawn hours of July 9. Cabral was shot dead and Fariñas wounded. Fariñas' bodyguards shot back, wounding one hitman.
The investigation has since spanned at least four countries and involved investigators from six governments including the United States, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
Five Guatemalan hitmen were arrested. Colombian authorities captured the supposed mastermind of the plot, Costa Rican Alejandro Jimenez, alias "Palidejo," earlier this month, as he made his way along the northern coast of that country to meet with one of that country's most feared drug trafficking organizations, the Rastrojos. Jimenez was deported to Guatemala for trial but has claimed innocence and is under heavy guard.[See InSight Crime's Rastrojos profile]
For his part, Fariñas recovered in a hospital under heavy guard. As the key witness in the case, he told Guatemalan investigators that Jimenez was angry that he refused to sell him the Costa Rican branch of Elite for an estimated $400,000.
No one has corroborated this story, and only one of the five Guatemalan assassins detained is collaborating but has limited knowledge of the motives behind the attack.
These motives are still in dispute and may never emerge. Nicaraguan authorities told InSight Crime late last year that they have no investigations open against Fariñas.
Fariñas also appears to have high level protection in his home country. When Guatemalans suggested that he was target for the attack that led to Cabral's death, Nicaragua's Supreme Court President Alba Luz Ramos came out in Fariñas' defense.
Senior police officer also reportedly frequent Fariñas' Elite night club. Fariñas' survival, however, may depend on his contacts with the ruling Sandinista party, but those contacts are not as apparent.
Jimenez's contacts with the Rastrojos also suggests that the dispute goes well beyond Fariñas' refusal to sell his club. Nicaraguan investigators told InSight Crime that they suspect "an illicit business" was at the heart of the case but refused to elaborate.
Costa Rican authorities had been investigating Jimenez for money laundering for months before the assassination attempt on Fariñas in Guatemala and told InSight Crime that they suspected Jimenez trafficked drugs as well but could not say if he was connected to Fariñas.
Finally, in a Plaza Publica report translated and published by InSight Crime this week, there is the possibility that the vendetta stretches north into the Sinaloa Cartel circles. According to the report, Jimenez transported Rastrojos' cocaine to the Sinaloa Cartel.
Finding the truth amidst this sea of groups and potential motives will be difficult unless the Nicaraguan authorities press Fariñas or Jimenez begins to talk to Guatemalan authorities. Neither appears likely at this point.