In a series of raids across Honduras authorities seized over 100 assets derived from an extortion ring that allegedly included MS13 members and government officials, reportedly the first operation of its kind in the country.
In the early morning hours of February 23, law enforcement agents headed by the Criminal Investigation Agency (Agencia de Investigación Criminal - ATIC) of the Public Ministry (Ministerio Publico - MP) carried out 42 raids against the extortion ring, arresting ten people and seizing 102 assets, including homes and cars, reported El Heraldo. Authorities also seized 13 businesses that were allegedly used to launder extortion money for the MS13 street gang.
According to Attorney General Óscar Fernando Chinchilla, this is the first time authorities have seized assets financed by extortion revenue. Dubbed "Operation Avalanche" by authorities, the task force comprised of 700 law enforcement agents is aimed at dismantling an MS13 network, according to El Heraldo.
Among those arrested is the mayor of the town of Talanga, who is accused of illicit association and money laundering, and an ex-police officer who was removed from the force four years ago after failing a polygraph test.
An unidentified source told El Heraldo that US authorities assisted in the operation after officials detected "suspicious transfers of money from Honduras to some North American cities."
InSight Crime Analysis
If Honduran authorities continue to target the financial side of extortion networks, as Chinchilla indicated following the raids, this could signal a new type of crackdown against the MS13.
Most security operations against street gangs are aimed at reclaiming territorial control and other law and order tactics that fall under the "Mano Dura," or Iron Fist approach. In contrast, asset seizures are generally reserved for drug trafficking organizations such as the Valles and the Cachiros, both of which had a large number of assets seized from them by Honduran authorities in the last two years.
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This new strategy may turn out to be more effective than Mano Dura, which has been criticized for inadvertently strengthening Central America's gangs. As a recent InSight Crime field investigation in Honduras found, all of the country's major street gangs count extortion as one of their principal sources of revenue.
Indeed, extortion has become an increasingly lucrative criminal industry in the Northern Triangle region (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras). According to statistics from Honduras' Chamber of Commerce, residents of the Northern Triangle paid over $650 million in extortion fees last year.