An Argentine court has handed down prison sentences of 12 to 21 years for five defendants in a landmark drug trafficking case, a positive step forward for a country that has become a key hub for the regional drug trade.
The case was nicknamed the "White Charcoal" scandal, after a smuggling method which involved shipping Bolivian cocaine from Argentina to Portugal, disguised as charcoal.
The leaders of the drug trafficking group -- lawyer Carlos Salvatore and businessman Patricio Gorosito -- were sentenced to 21 and 19 years each, local media reported. Two other businessmen were sentenced to 17 years each, while the foreman of a charcoal manufacturing plant was senteced to 12 years.
The charges included racketeering and drug smuggling. The convictions conclude a multi-year investigation, which began when Spanish, Argentine, and Portuguese authorities seized three cocaine shipments in 2012.
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The successful dismantling of the White Charcoal drug ring indicates that Argentine courts remain capable of prosecuting wealthy drug traffickers. It is a key victory in a country where the government has previously been seen as slow to acknowledge Argentina's growing importance in the drug trade.
Argentina is a crucial transit nation for drug shipments destined to Europe, and is also home to a lucrative domestic drug market. As a result, multiple foreign criminal organizations have set up shop in the country.
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These developments have led to increased concerns over the degree to which drug trafficking has corrupted local and national officials. Notably, President Cristina Kirchner's Cabinet Chief has been accused of ties to the precursor chemical trade.
So while the convictions handed down in the White Charcoal case is a step forward, much remains to be done. Despite launching a new anti-narcotics police force earlier this year, drug-linked violence continues to rise in Argentina. A former Buenos Aires police chief recently said that Argentina was ripe for the emergence of criminal organizations, like notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel.
While the analogy between Argentina now and Colombia of the late 1970s may be a flawed one, Argentina's government could do well to take a more proactive approach towards local and international drug traffickers.