A friend of Paraguay's president accused of leading a large, international money laundering scheme has reportedly offered to turn himself in to authorities. But his apparent willingness to cooperate may be a smokescreen for an effort to avoid facing justice.
Dario Messer, a Brazilian businessman and financial operator who is a naturalized citizen of Paraguay, has reportedly offered to surrender to face money laundering charges in Paraguay, according to sources who spoke to Última Hora.
Messer, whom Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes has described as his "soul brother," was charged with money laundering in Paraguay on May 8 following a series of raids targeting companies he owns.
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The charges in Paraguay came days after authorities in neighboring Brazil on May 3 accused Messer of leading a multicountry money laundering operation that handled more than $1.6 billion since 2003. News outlets report that Brazilian authorities are investigating more than 400 of Messer's clients, including individuals linked to corruption.
Brazilian authorities have requested Messer's extradition. On May 23, Paraguay's Supreme Court stripped Messer of his naturalized Paraguayan citizenship, which could facilitate his extradition.
InSight Crime Analysis
On its face, Messer's reported willingness to turn himself over to Paraguayan authorities may appear to be a good-faith gesture suggesting he will cooperate with the judicial actions against him. However, when examined more closely, the move appears to be an attempt to submit himself to Paraguayan justice in the hope that he can secure lenient treatment there, and potentially avoid being sent to Brazil, where he would likely face a much more aggressive prosecution.
Messer's close friendship with Cartes could give him some political cover as he faces the case against him in Paraguay. Cartes, who has been accused of involvement in various crimes including cigarette contraband and drug trafficking, has not been known to aggressively pursue people close to him allegedly involved in illicit activities. In fact, a number of his close allies have been accused of links to crime.
Moreover, a relative of Cartes has also been implicated in the Messer case, giving the Paraguayan president added incentive to pull whatever levers he can to ensure leniency for the accused.
At the same time, Cartes has been spending significant political capital on an effort to get Congress to accept his early resignation from office so that he can take a seat in the Senate. Questions surrounding Cartes' possible involvement in the Messer case have held up that process, suggesting the lame-duck president's ability to help his friends may be somewhat reduced.