The case of a group of bank robbers in the Dominican Republic headed by a former member of the military raises concerns about corruption and criminalization within the country's security forces.
The criminal structure was led by former army Lieutenant John Percival Matos, who exploited his military training to plan attacks against three banks between August and December 2016, stealing more than $200,000 dollars, according to authorities.
Percival Matos died during a police operation meant to apprehend him on December 28, two days after the group's latest robbery, reported Dominican Today.
The prosecutor's office has charged four other suspects, including an army major who allegedly supplied the group with weapons, on charges of criminal association, aggravated theft, homicide and attempted homicide, among other crimes.
While authorities eventually managed to catch up with the accused, the events have spurred heavy criticism due to the release of one of the members by allegedly corrupt police officers in December.
On December 12, authorities arrested Brayan Peter Félix Paulino for operating a motorcycle without the necessary driving documents, according to Listin Diario. Brayan -- who is now described as the one who was tasked with carrying out the assaults on the banks while his companions were in charge of the getaway -- was handed over to the national police's criminal division for a backup check on possible priors.
But within 24 hours of his arrest, the individual was set free and allowed to leave with his temporarily impounded motorcycle. By his own admission following his second arrest in early January 2017, Brayan bribed police officers with 20,000 Dominican pesos (about $430) for his freedom, and 5,000 additional pesos (about $90) to leave with his vehicle. Thirteen days later, he would participate in the group's last bank heist, using that very same motorcycle.
Authorities have launched an investigation by internal affairs to uncover the identities of the police officers who took the bribe.
InSight Crime Analysis
Amid concern about an increasing presence of organized crime in the Dominican Republic, these recent events serve as a reminder of the dangers of corruption within security institutions.
Reports indicate that the military experience of two members of the group was central to both the planning and the realization of the bank heists. And the suspects are hardly the first military men in the Dominican Republic to take advantage of their armed forces background when committing crimes. There have previously been cases of soldiers trafficking both arms and drugs.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Dominican Republic
Moreover, corruption within the police appears to have exacerbated the situation with the bank robbing ex-soldiers. But criminality within the island nation's police force is not limited to simply soliciting or accepting bribes. The former head of the country's anti-drugs police was convicted last year of stealing nearly one metric ton of cocaine, presumably with the intention of selling it himself.
These recurring signs of corruption in the Dominican Republic's security institutions are particularly worrying in a country where a top prosecutor has claimed that the military and police are involved in up to 90 percent of organized crime activity, and warnings of criminal influence in other government bodies continue to grow louder.