Authorities in Guatemala have arrested 21 people in raids targeting a money laundering ring linked to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, the latest sign that the country's culture of impunity is slowly eroding.
Police and prosecutors, with logistical support from the military, made the arrests during a series of 35 raids in Guatemala City, San Marcos, Huehuetenango and Quetzaltenango, reported Prensa Libre.
The group stands accused of laundering some $46 million, which Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz said investigators believed were drug profits linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.
The ring operated using a front company legally established as a fruit and vegetable exporter. They laundered money predominantly by paying a partner company in Mexico for non-existent shipments of produce. Members of the company would then travel to Mexico and remove the money from the bank accounts where they had deposited it. Another method used was to pay non-existent suppliers for produce.
The network predominantly transferred money to Mexico, although small quantities were also sent to China and the United States.
InSight Crime Analysis
As in most of the region, Guatemala has a poor record on combatting money laundering. In part, this is because of legal restrictions on investigations. The Special Audit Office and the Superintendency of Banks are only authorized to monitor suspicious activity occurring within the country's banking system, meaning that illicit cash transfers made outside of private and public banking fly under the radar.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering
Investigations have also been hindered by a culture of impunity that runs right to the top of Guatemala's social, business and political institutions. The clearest example of this was former President Alfonso Portillo, who was acquitted of money laundering and other charges despite damning evidence in 2011. He was later extradited to the United States.
However, there have been various signs that this culture is beginning to change, largely thanks to the tireless efforts of Paz y Paz and her team, and legal reforms such as the 2012 Law Against Illicit Enrichment.
This most recent case is yet another positive sign that Guatemala is moving in the right direction. However, the true test will not be the arrests but whether they can also secure convictions in the case.