The Dominican Republic's former top anti-narcotics official was sentenced to 20 years in prison for cocaine theft in a case that illustrates how the island's corrupt state agents are potentially becoming traffickers in their own right.
Former director of the anti-narcotics police (Dirección Central Antinarcóticos - DICAN) Carlos Fernández Valerio was convicted for stealing and presumably intending to sell around 950 kilograms of cocaine, Listin Diario reported.
The court also handed out 10- to 20-year sentences to former prosecutors, a former mayor and army members, including a former lieutenant colonel and a former assistant director of DICAN.
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The subjects were accused of stealing over a ton of cocaine that had been seized in DICAN operations. They have also been charged with money laundering, embezzlement and the falsification of public documents, Periódico Hoy reported.
Fernández was arrested in December 2014 following investigations into missing cocaine seizures, and was formally charged in January 2015.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Dominican Republic's notoriously corrupt security forces are known to engage in all manner of organized criminal activities, from hired assassinations to local and international drug trafficking. The corruption of authorities has facilitated the island country's status as one of the region's main transit points for drugs heading to the United States and Europe.
Perhaps an even greater cause for concern is that state forces appear to be taking on a more independent role in organized criminal activities.
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Before the DICAN scandal erupted, corruption incidents often involved low- to mid-ranking officials working in collaboration with criminal groups. However, the DICAN scheme has the characteristics of a more organized enterprise run by state officials. Fernández has been described as the leader of a criminal ring involving nearly two dozen state agents who would steal seized drug loads and sell them to international drug traffickers or Dominican drug gangs. The DICAN has since been described as the country's largest micro-trafficking cartel.
Past cases also provide a precedent for such high-level corruption. A decade before the DICAN network was dismantled, former army captain Quirino Paulino -- one of the Dominican Republic's biggest drug traffickers -- was extradited to the United States for trafficking 30 metric tons of cocaine to the country.
The possibility that public security forces are forming independent drug trafficking operations suggests that the country's already weak institutions are losing the battle against penetration by organized crime. This is a particularly disconcerting prospect, as the Dominican Republic's importance along international drug routes may well be on the rise.