The recent murder of a Colombian official has brought to light a criminal coalition in which local businessmen, Mexican drug traffickers, and the Urabeños work with the FARC guerrillas to launder drug money and move cocaine.
Celia Escobar Florez, a top inspector for Colombia's tax and customs agency, known by its Spanish acronym DIAN, in the southwestern Huila province, was murdered on May 10 in the province capital Neiva. According to newspaper El Tiempo, police believe her murder was ordered by a local businessman -- who officials requested remain anonymous -- after she refused to accept bribes to halt investigations into suspected money laundering operations.
Prosecutors believe the businessman is involved in laundering money for the Teofilo Forero Column of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and also serves as a contact for the FARC with Mexico's Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels. According to El Tiempo, the businessman has a style reminiscent of Pablo Escobar, investing in extravagant public works projects while rubbing shoulders with the Huila elite.
Officials say the Huila town of Pitalito is a key center of money laundering operations, and is also home to two important drug traffickers linked to the rebels -- Mexican citizen alias "El Sinaloeño," who serves as a contact between Mexico and the head of the Teofilo Forero Column, and alias "Patrocinio," a member of the Urabeños believed to be helping the Mexicans obtain FARC cocaine.
InSight Crime Analysis
The current report illustrates a FARC strategy common to criminal organizations of using well-connected middlemen -- often with connections to multiple groups -- to facilitate the movement of drugs and money and to organize money laundering schemes.
The report also serves to highlight the FARC's international connections, something also evidenced by the fact that an estimated 70 percent of the guerrilla organization's assets are held outside Colombia. Seized computer files showed FARC links with the Sinaloa Cartel date back to at least 2010; a more recent report indicated that the guerrilla organization has been selling off its drug franchises to the Mexican organization.
Established FARC-Urabeños drug connections have evolved as well, with the neo-paramilitary group reportedly taking over some of the FARC's drug trafficking operations.