Over the past month, Peru's police have reportedly dismantled seven criminal groups dedicated to extorting the construction sector, a sign that authorities are intent on confronting this growing, yet little-known problem.
Three of the groups were dismantled on November 17, reported Andina. Fourteen suspects from a gang called "Los Malditos del Sur" -- including four heads of construction unions -- were captured in Cañete, just south of Lima. They are accused of extorting construction and real estate companies, creating front companies, and carrying out hired killings, reported El Comercio. Several members of two other extortion gangs that operated in and around Lima were also arrested.
Days earlier, national police in the northern coastal province of La Libertad arrested 24 alleged members of "Los Cagaleches" and "Los Wilos," accused of extortion, hired killings, robbery, drug trafficking and money laundering. Their victims reportedly included construction companies, the transport sector and other local businesses.
Two additional gangs involved in extorting construction companies were taken down recently in La Libertad and Cajamarca provinces.
Extortion gangs have also been tied to recent incidents involving explosives, including one thrown at the house of a businessman in northern Peru and a grenade that injured an employee and two youths at a store in Lima.
Interior Minister Daniel Urresti said the government was "intensifying" police operations directed against extortion gangs, reported El Comercio.
InSight Crime Analysis
With these successive police operations and Urresti's statement, it appears Peru is honing in on a highly damaging and growing criminal industry.
Last year, the head of Peru's criminal investigation unit (DIRINCRI) told InSight Crime that authorities were seeing an explosion of extortion-related activity directed primarily at the country's construction sector. As of July this year, construction companies just from Peru's northwest Piura region had filed 40 complaints of extortion in 2014, while the secretary general for Peru's construction workers' federation (FTCCP) claimed that around 60 groups dedicated to construction-sector extortion operate throughout the country. Authorities say that many of these extortion groups pretend to be informal trade unions.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion
The construction sector is not the only target: transport sector extortion in the northwestern city of Trujillo is worth an estimated $4 million a year.
Some of Peru's most sophisticated and well-organized criminal groups are extortion gangs, making the rise of new groups dedicated to this activity a particular concern. Many of these operations are also protected and assisted by corrupt police, complicating efforts to root them out.