A network of corrupt police officials allegedly involved in a major bribery scheme in Paraguay has been dismantled, further indicating the negative effects that the country's booming marijuana industry has had on security.
It has become customary for marijuana producers in Paraguay's Alto Paraná department, one of the country's main marijuana-producing regions, to bring large sums of money as "welcome gifts" to the department's newest authorities in order to ensure that their operations can continue undisturbed, according to ABC Color.
In a series of audio clips reviewed by ABC Color, Chief Petty Officer Marco Antonio Verdún Jara, head of the police station in the Nueva Conquista neighborhood in the Itakyry district of Alto Paraná, describes the scheme.
The audio beings with Verdún scolding his colleague, Manuel Cantero, who according to ABC Color, came to relieve Verdún. Verdún accused Cantero of conspiring against him to take his position.
According to Verdún, Manuel Sosa, now Alto Paraná's former police chief, would have charged him 4,000,000 Paraguayan guaranís (about $700) to keep his position. According to ABC Color, this is common practice in Paraguay's rural regions. However, Sosa ordered Verdún to be relieved of his duties instead.
Later on in the discussion, Verdún verbally attacks the authorities who recently assumed duty in Ciudad del Este after the headquarters of the private security firm Prosegur was assaulted there last month in the largest robbery in Paraguay's history.
Eventually, Verdún goes on to implicate himself as being the administrator of the "welcome gifts" to the newly hired authorities on behalf of the marijuana producers, ABC Color reported. Verdún states that he delivered 50,000,000 guaranís (about $9,000) each to the police chief, the chief of investigations and the local anti-narcotics chief in Alto Paraná.
Verdún also admits to keeping 45,000,000 guaranís (about $8,000) for himself, justifying the decision by saying that it was what he was due.
In response, top local security official Luis Cantero ordered the removal of Sosa as Alto Paraná's police chief as well as the firing of Juan Fernández, the police chief of Paraguarí, another rural department. ABC Color reported that Fernández was previously the police chief in Alto Paraná and also is suspected of recieving bribes.
The police internal affairs division has launched an investigation of the scandal.
InSight Crime Analysis
Corruption is a longstanding issue in Paraguay's security forces, particularly among local police in rural areas that grow the massive amounts of marijuana that have made the country South America's main producer of the drug. And security force corruption has contributed significantly to the persistence of this illicit industry.
In addition to the most recent scandal in Alto Paraná, the head of Paraguay's National Police recently ordered the removal of police chiefs from the departments of Central and San Pedro after six police officers were arrested for marijuana trafficking, ABC Color reported separately. The arrests were linked to a seizure of 8.6 metric tons of marijuana in Misiones department. According to news reports, the officers were charged with trafficking, possessing and selling marijuana, while also providing protection for the shipments as they left the country.
SEE ALSO: Paraguay News
Earlier this month authorities dismantled the seventh largest marijuana shipment on record in Paraguay. And on May 12, authorities carried out an operation on the 10,000 hectare Santa Ana estate, where they found more than 15 metric tons of pressed marijuana and another 21 tons waiting to be picked and processed.
Furthermore, Pedro Juan Caballero, located on Paraguay's eastern border with Brazil, has also seen several large marijuana seizures as of late. In February, a staggering 220 metric tons of marijuana were seized by authorities, and in April, a smaller but still significant seizure of 7 tons of marijuana was carried out in the border town.
Recent reports indicate that Paraguay's lucrative marijuana industry may be the source of conflict among local crime groups linked with larger organizations. A string of violent confrontations along the Brazil-Paraguay border near Pedro Juan Caballero in March, for example, hinted at a possible battle being waged between criminal groups for control of drug trafficking routes in the region.