Evidence of land theft by the Honduras-based Valle family clan sheds light on the modus operandi of one of the country's most prominent drug trafficking groups.
The Valle family invaded hundreds of hectares of land in order to set up operational bases, according to a report by the Special Prosecutor's Office Against Organized Crime (Fiscalía Especial contra el Crimen Organizado - FESCCO), which was accessed by El Heraldo.
The drug trafficking organization illegally took possession of a number of properties in five municipalities in the department of Copán and one in the department of Santa Bárbara, both in northwest Honduras, the report stated.
Of the approximately 996 hectares seized, the organization does not possess title deeds for 714 hectares, or 28 plots of land, but does own title deeds for the remaining 283 hectares, or 14 plots.
The organization and its presumed frontmen allegedly have documents stating their rights to the seized land, however Honduras' Property Institution (Instituto de Propiedad - IP) does not have any records of the titles.
The seizure of the Valle organization's assets began in August 2014, after the US Treasury listed the group's leaders as drug traffickers.
SEE ALSO: Valles Profile
According to the FESCCO report, a total of 88 properties were seized from the Valle family, including malls, hotels, gyms, houses, parking lots, hardware stores, and a cable television company. Of these, 30 have the corresponding documentation, while 58 do not.
Brothers Miguel Arnulfo, Luis Alonso and José Inocente -- who have been extradited to the United States on drug trafficking charges -- along with José Reynerio, who is on the run, and Digna Valle Valle, who has been prosecuted for cocaine trafficking in the United States, are demanding the restitution of the seized properties through their lawyers.
InSight Crime Analysis
It would seem that the seized lands -- situated in the border region with Guatemala, which is the main region in which the organization operated -- were being used as a base for the group's drug trafficking activities. The Valles family was once thought to move 10 tons of cocaine a month through Honduras, as a link between Colombian, Guatemalan and Mexican criminal groups.
Invading land, or acquiring land with illicit proceeds, is a common trait among drug trafficking organizations, including the Cachiros, the other main transport group in Honduras. In Colombia, the problem is particularly prominent, with criminal groups taking advantage of low land taxes to launder money through the properties. Owning swathes of land can equate to both economic strength and political leverage.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering
The seizure of the Valles' lands could be another tough blow to the group, which has seen its leadership and finances greatly weakened in recent years. It is thought that these recent crackdowns are a result of mounting pressure from the United States and the Honduran government's less complacent attitude towards criminals that were untouchable in the past.