Authorities in Argentina have dismantled an international drug trafficking gang with links to Colombia, Peru and Uruguay, which included a church pastor, in an operation underlining the growing importance of Argentina in the region's drug trade.
In a joint operation by federal and local forces, police made 12 arrests, among them nine Colombians, two Argentines and a Peruvian, and seized more than 100 kilos of cocaine across the capital Buenos Aires, reported Telam.
According to Infobae, the group was led by Colombian John Eduard Martinez Grajales, alias "El Doctor," and had links to organized criminal groups in his homeland, the Urabeños and "Los Machos."
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Martinez had operated under the guise of a wealthy businessman since 2009, establishing various businesses alongside his accomplices in Argentina and Uruguay, reported Clarin.
The group was observed by authorities meeting at the Buenos Aires branch of the neo-Pentecostal Church of God Ministry of Jesus Christ International and church pastor David Andres Acevedo Muñoz was among the twelve arrested, reported Clarin.
The group was also connected to soccer, although the exact nature of the link remains unclear. Members were involved in a group called Football Group International, which Clarin described as "dedicated to the transfer of footballers," while 200 tickets to the Buenos Aires soccer derby between River Plate and Boca Juniors were discovered alongside 170 kilos of cocaine seized in September.
InSight Crime Analysis
The dismantling of this gang indicates that Argentina is home to foreign organized crime activity, with a particular presence of Colombian groups. While it has for years been used as a refuge for Colombian drug traffickers, as well as a location for laundering and investing illicit profits, it appears groups also use it as a base of operations.
The lucrative and growing domestic drug market, as well as Argentina's status as a key point of export for cocaine destined for Europe, make it an attractive prospect for Colombian organized crime groups, especially in the face of Mexican domination of the US cocaine market. The growth of drug trafficking in Argentina has been linked to rising youth homicides and an uptick in violence in the north of the country, while Colombian groups involved in human trafficking have also been dismantled recently.
The Urabeños are also known to have been present in Argentina previously, with former leader Henry de Jesus Lopez, alias "Mi Sangre," arrested there in 2012.