The commander of Paraguay’s national police has been charged in connection with a corruption scandal involving money siphoned from the agency’s gasoline fund, a rare indictment in a country where few corrupt officials are prosecuted.
On May 19, President Horacio Cartes removed National Police Commander Francisco Alvarenga from his post for his alleged connection to a growing gas scandal involving several police officers, including Alvarenga's son, reported ABC Color. The following day, Interior Minister Francisco de Vargas announced that both Alvarenga and the administrative director of the national police, Carlos Jara, had been charged with "breach of trust".
Six police officers have been implicated in the scandal for allegedly withdrawing around $230,000 from gasoline cards that were intended to refuel police vehicles, according to ABC Color. The officers reportedly purchased flashy cars and expensive houses with the money. Alvarenga's own ties to the scandal are tenuous -- the indictment faults him for negligent conduct for failing to actively prevent the scam -- but his son, Francisco Alvarenga Rotela, has been charged with illicit enrichment for allegedly aiding the supposed leader of the corruption network.
At a press conference announcing the charges, Vargas stated that the legal proceedings amount to "one of the few times a sitting commander has been charged with a crime."
InSight Crime Analysis
Police corruption is a major problem in Paraguay, which is ranked by Transparency International as the third most corrupt country in the Americas, after Venezuela and Haiti. There have been numerous cases of police corruption in recent years, especially in the provinces that border Brazil, which are home to marijuana producing areas. In one recent case, an investigation implicated a network of police in Paraguay's Canindeyu province who reportedly accepted bribes from drug traffickers, and passed money along to their superiors.
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The police are far from the only government agency affected by corruption in Paraguay. In October 2014, the murder of a journalist who was reporting on the country's drug trade also exposed ties between politicians and drug traffickers. Shortly afterwards, the head of Paraguay's anti-drug agency expressed concern about drug traffickers purchasing protection from politicians, military, and judicial officials.
While few of the politicians exposed by the narco-politics scandal appear to have faced legal action, the recent charges against high level police officials are a welcome change from the country's normally high levels of impunity. However, shuffling the top leadership is unlikely to curb misconduct in an agency in which corruption appears to be endemic.