Authorities in Honduras have identified an individual they say is the top money launderer for the MS13 gang in that country, a development that illustrates the potential of investigations that target the financial structures of criminal groups.
An investigation by the Attorney General's Office has indentified Óscar Efraín Cortés Cabrera as the man in charge of laundering illicit proceeds the gang earned from extortion, drug trafficking and other criminal activities, El Heraldo reported.
Reports reviewed by the news outlet allege that gang members would bring black bags filled with cash to Cabrera's office at a car dealership he owned. From there, Cabrera would launder the money through real estate purchases, business investments and even donations to churches.
Cabrera was targeted as part of phase two of "Operation Avalanche" ("Operación Avalancha II"), a security operation begun earlier this year aimed at dismantling important MS13 structures.
Authorities seized 22 pieces of property from Cabrera, including several luxury homes and his car dealership, where they also confiscated 232 vehicles and more than $2.2 million worth of cash.
Despite the large scale of the operation against Cabrera, it remains unclear whether or not he has been formally charged with any crimes.
"I cannot refer to that because the investigation is ongoing and that is still under analysis," a source close to the investigation told El Heraldo.
InSight Crime Analysis
Operation Avalanche represents something of a new and different approach for Honduras when it comes to combating the gangs operating in the country. As InSight Crime previously noted, past anti-gang operations have largely focused on reclaiming physical territory from these groups and arresting their members. Targeting the gang's financial structures could ultimately prove to be a more effective long-term strategy for reducing the gangs' extensive power and influence.
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In addition, Operation Avalanche has revealed the growing sophistication of the MS13 as a criminal organization. Evidence obtained during the operation has lent weight to the argument that the gang is becoming more deeply involved in the transnational drug trade. And the extensive money laundering activities uncovered thus far show the group is becoming savvier about hiding the illicit origins of their earnings. Press reports suggest the MS13 may even be laundering money in the United States, where the ease of establishing shell companies has proven an attraction for criminal groups across Latin America.