Paraguay authorities have dismantled a trafficking network tied to officials in a major marijuana-producing region bordering Brazil, highlighting the widespread and systematic corruption that has long facilitated the country’s role as South America’s main illegal marijuana producer.

Nine alleged members of a marijuana trafficking ring were arrested on August 1 in the marijuana-producing Canindeyú department’s capital city Salto del Guairá near Paraguay’s eastern border with Brazil.

According to prosecutors, the year-long investigation that led to the arrests revealed a “well-structured ‘protection system’” composed of current and former police officers, soldiers, prosecutors and customs officials who accepted bribes from the trafficking group in exchange for turning a blind eye to drug shipments and alerting the network to investigations and raids.

During the operation, authorities seized handwritten documents detailing the bribe payments, as well as more than a dozen vehicles, several boats, semi-automatic weapons and nearly 16 tons of marijuana valued at approximately $8 million.

Among those arrested were Flaviano Giménez, identified as the alleged leader and main financier of the trafficking group, his son and alleged second-in-command Flavio Junior Giménez Spaini and alleged drug transporter Jorge Daniel Zorrilla Vera.

Wilson Gauto Campuzano, the assistant prosecutor for the Attorney’s General’s anti-drug unit in Salto Guiará, was arrested for allegedly accepting bribes to pass along intelligence to the criminal group. Former soldier Jorge Daniel Zorrilla was arrested for allegedly managing the storage of the drugs.

Twin brothers Wilson Rubén Cáceres González and Wilson Darío Cáceres González, who is also an ex-police officer, are accused of helping move the drugs across Canindeyú. They remain fugitives, Paraguayan news outlet ABC Color reported.

Several police officers accused of accepting bribes have also been dismissed.

SEE ALSO: Paraguay News and Profile

According to investigators, the trafficking scheme involved transporting tons of marijuana from a remote plantation through various cities in the department via the main highways, paying bribes along the way. Once the drug shipments reached the departmental capital Salto del Guairá, they were stored in a facility near the local customs agency and then moved to clandestine ports on the Paraná river. From there, go-fast boats would traffic the marijuana across the river into neighboring Brazil.

Prosecutor Marcelo Pecci told ABC Color that investigators are now using the seized documents cataloging the bribes as a “big puzzle” to advance their understanding of the network and determine whether or not the group may have also used their protected route to traffic contraband like guns and cigarettes.

InSight Crime Analysis

The trafficking network recently dismantled in one of Paraguay’s main marijuana-producing regions illustrates how entrenched corruption has made the country South America’s top illegal marijuana producer and facilitates the drug’s transport across the border with Brazil.

Paraguayan police officers regularly accept bribes to either ignore or actively protect cannabis plantations and drug shipments moving through the country and across its borders. In recent years, many local and national politicians have also been accused of involvement in marijuana trafficking, and corrupt judges have allegedly ensured impunity for traffickers.

Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes’ administration recently intensified marijuana seizures and eradication, as well as cooperation with neighboring countries. But production seems to be booming anyway, in part because farmers lack alternatives, officials routinely accept bribes and selling the drug for international consumption is highly lucrative.

Brazil is by far the top consumer, with an estimated 80 percent of the illegal cannabis grown in Paraguay destined for the neighboring country. The latest arrests in the Paraguay-Brazil border region highlight the integral role that corrupt officials play in protecting the production and transport of the drug. This deep corruption even appears to be paving the way for Brazil’s biggest criminal organization, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), to expand its reach in the border region and even into Paraguay’s capital Asunción.

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