A Paraguayan politician, who previously served time in prison for drug trafficking, is now under investigation for money laundering, a case that is representative of the new breed of criminals feeding the Southern Cone’s drug trade.
A new inquiry has been opened into the origins and value of certain possessions (including ranches, livestock, planes, cars, and gas stations) belonging to Carlos Ruben Sanchez Garcete, alias “Chicharõ” -- what a Paraguayan state prosecutor says is “technically money laundering,” reported ABC.
According to new documents and evidence, Chicharõ was making monthly transactions of over $200,000 through one bank account alone.
Chicharõ -- who is a member of the right-wing Colorado Party and an alternative congressional representative for the border state of Amambay -- has had frequent encounters with the law in Paraguay and neighboring Brazil in recent years.
He first came to the attention of Brazilian authorities in 2000, when a man transporting almost 2,500 kilos of marijuana camouflaged in a shipment of wood was arrested. Investigations showed that Chicharõ was the owner of the sawmill where the truck had been loaded.
Then, in 2008, Brazilian Federal Police arrested Chicharõ on charges of money laundering and smuggling; two years later, he was sentenced to four years in prison. In an interview, Odilon de Oliveira, the judge who sentenced Chicharõ, said, “He is a drug trafficker. I recognize in my sentencing that this is definitive.”
However, Chicharõ -- who goes by the name Adriano Lopes Bordon in Brazil -- was able to flee back to Paraguay, and, still a fugitive from the law in Brazil, decided to successfully run for office with the Colorado Party.
Yet roughly five months after he was elected, Paraguay’s anti-drug authority, known as the SENAD, arrested Chicharõ in a small town along the Paraguay-Brazil border. Although there were standing orders for his extradition to Brazil, his prison sentence was transferred to Paraguay. After serving time in the Tacumbu prison, he was released in September 2014, and is now under house arrest.
Nonetheless, in July 2014, a plane linked to Chicharõ (still in prison at this time) that was carrying drugs made an emergency landing -- killing two women and a child who were riding down a road on motorcyles. The plane -- allegedly flown by three Paraguayans and a Brazilian -- was unloaded of its cargo and abandoned. Some time later, Chicarõ allegedly contacted the mother of two of those killed by the plane, offering financial compensation in exchange for her not speaking to authorities.
The drug plane that crashed into several pedestrians in 2014 in Paraguay, killing three. c/o ABC Color
Ongoing investigations into Chicharõ have determined he is the right-hand man of Luiz Carlos Da Rocha, alias “Cabeça Branca,” who is considered the successor of Fernandinho Beira Mar, one of the main drug suppliers in the region.
InSight Crime Analysis
Chicharõ has been at the heart of the expanding drug trade in Latin America's Southern Cone region, and he is not the only Paraguayan drug trafficker to play such a role. Brazil's status as the world's second-largest market for cocaine has fueled a criminal network in South America thought to pull in $9 billion a year from drug sales, according to one estimate. Chicharõ is just one of these little-known figures who is driving a very profitable transnational drug trade that competes with that of the US.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
Chicharõ's ability to move into politics despite his long criminal history also demonstrates the weakness of Paraguayan institutions in competently investigating and prosecuting those involved in the drug and contraband trade, with corruption among government officials running deep.
Indeed, the failure to fully bring Chicharõ to justice -- and his ability to run for office despite being a fugitive in Brazil, as well as continue trafficking operations from prison -- is a troubling indicator of where things may be headed in the region.