According to new figures released by Guatemala's Attorney General's Office, the amount of money that criminal groups make from extortion, kidnapping, and hired killings pale in comparison to the cash involved in several recent corruption scandals.
The Attorney General's Office told newspaper La Hora that a single criminal group may collect up to 135,000 quetzales (about $17,500) a month in extortion profits, which adds up to about $210,000 in yearly earnings for that criminal group.
La Hora's report did not include the Attorney General's estimate for total potential earnings from extortion, but the Interior Ministry has said that it may be worth up to $61 million a year. This figure includes estimated earnings from so-called "express" kidnappings, in which the victim is held hostage for only a short period of time.
According to the Attorney General Office numbers reported by La Hora, prosecutors have registered cases in which families pay kidnap ransoms ranging from $130 to $3,250. Guatemala's head organized crime prosecutor told the newspaper that in many cases, kidnappers will start out demanding 1 million quetzales (about $130,000) in ransom, but will lower their demands significantly during negotiations if prosecutors and the police become involved.
Another significant source of income for criminal groups is hired killings. The head of the Attorney General criminal investigations unit told La Hora that up to 38 percent of Guatemala's homicides may have been committed by contract killers, who may earn between $13 to $26,000 for doing so. A contract killer previously interviewed by La Hora said he had charged between $910 to about $3,250 for his work, with the price falling or increasing depending on whether he was provided with the murder weapon or not.
InSight Crime Analysis
Assigning an estimated total worth to underworld activities like extortion and kidnapping is a tricky business. Government agencies typically risk underestimating the profits at stake, partly because a significant number of people may not be reporting the crime.
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The Attorney General Office estimates suggest that the potential earnings from extortion, kidnapping, and contract killings are nothing to laugh at. Still, these amounts look skimpy compared to the reported profits involved in recent state corruption schemes. The customs fraud ring led by Guatemala's ex-president and vice president stole over $3 million in state funds within a year, according to the Attorney General's Office. In another case unveiled this year, a candidate for the vice presidency was implicated in a money laundering scheme that may have involved up to $121 million in laundered funds.
While Guatemala must certainly continue to work towards improving public security by battling extortion and kidnapping, authorities have done well to turn their attention this year to corrupt elites who are also raking in huge profits.