US authorities have placed Colombia's Oficina de Envigado on its Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers list in spite of the group's decline in recent years, in what appears to be a recognition of the organization's role in providing secondary services for major drug trafficking groups and potential for expansion.
On June 26, the US Department of Treasury designated the Oficina de Envigado under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. The designation means all of the group's assets in the United States will be frozen, and that US citizens and corporations face sanctions if they engage in business transactions with entities connected to the organization.
In a press release, the Department of Treasury said its decision was based on the Medellin based organization's role in international drug trafficking and the services it offers for other criminal groups, including money laundering, extortion and assassinations. According to the Treasury, these services are not just offered to Colombian groups but also international organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel.
InSight Crime Analysis
In recent years, the Oficina de Envigado has been torn apart by infighting, loss of leadership and war with the narco-paramilitaries known as the Urabeños, so in some ways it is surprising the Treasury has decided to take this action now. The fact that it has is likely related to the secondary services it provides drug traffickers and possibly to its potential for regaining lost influence in the world of transnational drug trafficking.
The Oficina currently operates as a horizontally organized confederation of criminal organizations without clearly defined hierarchical leadership. These "oficinas de cobro" (collection offices) facilitate drug trafficking and related activities by providing services for drug traffickers as well as squeezing criminal profits out of Medellin through micro-trafficking, extortion, prostitution, gambling, robberies and assassinations.
SEE ALSO: Oficina de Envigado Profile
At the height of its power, the Oficina was ruled by the fearsome kingpin Diego Murillo, alias "Don Berna," and had an extensive drug trafficking network stretching from the city of Medellin in northwestern Colombia to Panama. It also moved drug shipments through Central America and Jamaica to the United States.
However, after the extradition of Don Berna in 2008 sparked a bloody war of succession, the group lost many of its international trafficking contacts. These contacts were managed by Maximiliano Bonilla, alias "Valenciano." He lost the war and was arrested in 2011.
In recent years, the Oficina has been locked into another bitter conflict with the Urabeños. However, in 2013 the two sides declared a truce and sources have told InSight Crime part of the deal involved cutting in the Oficina on the Urabeños international trafficking operations. If the truce holds, then the Oficina could yet live up to its Treasury designation.