A list of assets belonging to officials in Paraguay has drawn attention to the wealth of a handful of high-profile politicians, who have previously been allegedly tied to drug trafficking activity, highlighting how the ruling Colorado Party seems to grant broad impunity to its members.
The list includes names of current and former congresspeople which have been tied to illegal activity, many of whom have small fortunes in assets, including real estate, vehicles and cash in bank accounts. These revelations became public during a state of emergency for coronavirus, which granted the executive branch the ability to repurpose parts of the budget. The Comptroller-General's Office subsequently published a list of assets for all officials affected by the budget changes.
Perhaps the most prominent figure listed is Freddy D'Ecclesiis, a Colorado party deputy representing San Pedro, a department in central Paraguay, who was embroiled in a drug trafficking investigation in 2018. The list also includes Cynthia Tarragó, a former TV personality, Colorado Party deputy and candidate for mayor of Asunción. She was arrested last year in the United States on charges of running a money-laundering operation for drug traffickers.
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The list also includes a former deputy for the ruling Colorado Party, including Bernardo Villalba of Concepción, who has faced his share of reported connections to drug trafficking.
InSight Crime Analysis
Seeing Colorado Party figures, who have been connected to criminal groups, remain largely free of any legal trouble and continue to enjoy lavish lifestyles is nothing new.
The Colorado Party is Paraguay's longest and most successful political organization and has long faced criticisms for essentially turning a blind eye to allegations of criminal activities among its members. In December 2019, Paraguayan media published a list of 45 Colorado members who had been indicted or found guilty on criminal charges. Of these, only three had seen their membership suspended.
The most damning allegations against a politician in the list came in 2019 when Cynthia Tarragó was arrested by the FBI in New Jersey and charged with running a $2 million money-laundering operation connected to cocaine deals.
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Freddy D'Ecclesiis has also long faced allegations of involvement with drug trafficking but none of them have stuck. Most recently, he was on the radar of investigators in 2018 following a raid on a family hangar by the Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas — SENAD), according to ABC Color.
And in 2014, a report by SENAD to the Paraguayan Senate named D'Ecclesiis, as well as another politician on the asset list, Bernardo Villalba, as having links to drug trafficking, ABC Color reported. In 2006, a shipment of 196 kilograms of cocaine was found on a property belonging to D'Ecclesiis in San Pedro.
Villalba was named as having reportedly defended drug traffickers from within congress and solicited campaign donations from known criminals.
Both men have firmly denied any connections to drug trafficking and have never been charged.
The Colorado Party is also the political home of former president Horacio Cartes (2013-2018), a wealthy businessman whose family has a hand in virtually every major industry in Paraguay — from hotel chains and transportation companies to cattle ranching and aviation.
Although no longer in office, Cartes has been connected to an extensive cigarette smuggling operation, spanning much of Latin America, according to an investigation by the Counter Extremism Project.