A criminal gang operating along the Argentina-Bolivia border exchanged stolen luxury rental cars for drugs, exposing a new transaction method along this remote part of Latin America.
On August 20, Bolivia's Interior Minister, Carlos Romero, revealed that criminal groups were renting vehicles in Argentina and then traveling to the neighboring country, where they received packets of drugs as payment for the cars.
Bolivian gangs then cloned the license plates and the car ownership papers to be able to legally sell these cars in the departments of Beni and Santa Cruz.
The latest seizure of four Toyota vehicles, three SUVs and one minivan all from the 2019 range, took place after both countries teamed up to track the vehicles.
For Romero, "payment in cash for packets of drugs is slowly becoming a thing of the past."
SEE ALSO: Bolivia News and Profile
Bolivia is one of the world’s top cocaine producers and a key step for trafficking drugs from Colombia and Peru for distribution in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Chile, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
InSight Crime Analysis
Although drug trafficking has thrived along the border between Argentina and Bolivia, especially in the hands of local clans, the exchange of vehicles for drugs denotes a new modus operandi, which uses different advantages offered by both countries.
It is possible that this new method offers a series of advantages for some of these organized criminal operations.
On the one hand, the fact that the cars are originally rented and not reported as stolen, facilitates their movement across the border with fewer chances of being detected.
Additionally, such an exchange produces a relatively straightforward way to introduce the illicit profits from drug trafficking into the formal economy, particularly relevant in this case due to the value of the vehicles, all the latest models.
SEE ALSO: Argentina News and Profile
Authorities in Argentina and Bolivia have been fighting against organized criminal activities on the border for years, primarily focused on the displacement of security forces tasked with surveillance and drug seizures.
They have also collaborated on the capture of some prominent figures from the local criminal underworld, including Mario Morfulis Herrera, leader of the Clan Castedo, who was arrested in Bolivia in January 2019 and handed over to Argentine authorities. The Clan Castedo has reportedly maintained a monopoly over cocaine trafficking in northern Argentina for two decades.