The widow and son of the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar as well as a former soccer star are accused of participating in a money laundering scheme in Argentina involving another powerful Colombian crime boss, underlining Argentine authorities’ efforts to address the country’s persistent attractiveness for foreign criminals.
Federal Judge Morón Néstor Barral determined on June 4 that there is sufficient evidence to allow a money laundering case to proceed against Escobar's widow María Isabel Santos Caballero and her son Sebastián Marroquín.
Barral agreed with the prosecution’s accusations that Escobar’s widow and son “provided essential support" for an operation that laundered millions of dollars in illicit proceeds belonging to José Piedrahita Ceballos, a suspected long-time drug trafficker who was arrested last year and is currently in Colombian custody facing extradition to the United States.
Authorities believe that Escobar’s relatives were the ones to introduce Piedrahita to Mateo Corvo Dolcet, a prominent Argentine lawyer involved a number of real estate affairs, and the main figure among Piedrahita’s alleged Argentine frontmen.
“As a result, Corvo Dolcet rewarded Marroquín Santos and Santos Caballero with a commission of 4.5 percent of the total investment realized,” authorities allege.
This is not the first time Escobar’s family, exiled in Argentina since the mid-1990s, has been accused of laundering drug proceeds. In 1999, similar charges were raised by Argentine authorities against Santos, before being eventually dropped.
The case has also ensnared Mauricio "Chicho" Serna, a former Colombian soccer star who played for Buenos Aires' Boca Juniors club for some time.
Despite the accusations, Santos and Marroquín remain far from a formal conviction, as Argentina’s legal process for prosecuting crimes -- in the midst of reform -- has many stages and many opportunities for appeal.
InSight Crime Analysis
The charges against Escobar's relatives serve as a reminder of Argentina’s longstanding reputation as a safe haven for foreign criminals looking to wash their dirty money. Relatively lax enforcement of immigration controls and financial activities are attractive features for criminals like Piedrahita, who exemplified an emerging generation of drug traffickers in Colombia called the “invisibles” for their tendency to adopt low-profile, non-violent ways of conducting illicit business.
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But the case is also a positive sign that Argentine authorities are continuing to crack down on money laundering. Ramped up anti-laundering efforts began under the previous presidential administration, which undertook a gradual strengthening of financial controls to bring Argentina in line with international standards. If successful, high-profile cases like the one involving Escobar's relatives will send a message that these efforts are paying off.