Corrupt Guatemalan anti-narcotics police hijacked drug shipments and stole confiscated cocaine by replacing it with bicarbonate of soda, according to a police investigation.
Authorities arrested a group of 12 policemen from the anti-narcotics unit of Guatemala's National Civil Police (PNC) after they allegedly stole 25 kilos of cocaine, worth over $3 million, from a 67 kilo shipment intercepted by police, reported El Periodico.
According to the investigation, the group was tipped off about the shipment by a criminal contact. The police then intercepted the vehicle, seizing the drugs and arresting three men, but letting their contact walk free.
The authorities believe the gang has been involved in several robberies of drug shipments -- known as "tumbes" -- and have been operating for at least a year, reported Siglo 21.
The group is believed to have been led by Ervin Perez Robledo, the chief of operations of the PNC's General Subdivision of Anti-narcotics Information Analysis. Investigations suggest Perez was the principal contact with criminal groups. After receiving information on drug shipments, Perez was able to use his position as chief of operations to handpick corrupt officers for the patrols that would intercept the shipments.
Prosecutors highlighted two confirmed cases of theft where Perez allegedly oversaw the switching of seized cocaine for bicarbonate of soda. According to witnesses, the group also used to switch cocaine stored in police warehouses.
The day after the arrests of the 12 anti-narcotics police, Guatemalan authorities arrested three more active police and one former officer accused of running a drug dealing and contract killing gang, further highlighting the extent of police corruption in Guatemala.
For corrupt police, "tumbes" represent an ideal method of securing their share of drug trade profits as they can use their connections to the criminal underworld for tip offs, then carry out the heist under the cover of a legitimate police raid.
Despite the evidence presented from the investigation so far, it remains unclear exactly how the crew operated. Tumbes are often the result of traffickers failing to pay a "tax" to whoever controls the transit route, and it is possible the thefts in this case were as a result of traffickers failing to pay police off.
It is also possible, the tip off was payment in itself by traffickers wanting to move larger shipments through the region unimpeded, or that it came from criminals contracted to move the shipments who were looking to split the profits, or even from a rival criminal group trying to prevent its competitors' shipments.
The question also remains as to what the police were doing with the stolen cocaine -- whether they sold it on in bulk to traffickers, or whether they sold it in the domestic market.