Ammunition manufactured for Paraguay’s military is ending up in the hands of organized crime groups as a crippling lack of traceability ensures gangs can fill their arsenals with ease.
Aldo Daniel Ozuna, the director-general of Paraguay’s Directorate of War Material (Dirección de Material Bélico - Dimabel), which supplies ammunition to the military, has admitted that bullets intended for the armed forces have made their way to criminal organizations.
Ozuna told Paraguayan media outlet NPY Oficial on September 14 that at least four unnamed military units were being investigated for potentially selling off ammunition.
“We are working to detect the leak. We have to understand that organized crime has permeated our institutions,” he told reporters.
Ozuna's announcement came after Dimabel bullets were used in two separate criminal acts in September.
Most recently on September 8, hitmen shot 51 bullets at a home in Guaraní in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero, according to news channel Telefuturo. The bullet casings found at the scene bore a Dimabel stamp.
Days earlier, a soldier working for Dimabel and an accomplice were arrested in the Chaco department for attempting to sell Dimabel ammunition through the messaging service, WhatsApp, La Nación reported.
According to Ozuna, Dimabel ships ammunition to military and security units throughout the country but lacks sufficient tracing mechanisms to prevent it falling into the wrong hands. Boxes of ammunition bearing QR codes used are sent to military units across Paraguay. But the bullets themselves have no unique identification.
“We only have a single mark on the bottom of each bullet that says 'Dimabel,'” Ozuna told reporters. Once the bullets are removed from the boxes, it is impossible to track where they are sent or at which armory they were originally manufactured.
In an effort to increase traceability of military weaponry in the country, the European Union’s Global Illicit Flows program donated an electromagnetic micro-percussion marking machine to Paraguay on September 19.
InSight Crime Analysis
At the heart of Dimabel’s inability to stem ammunition trafficking lie shortcomings not only in munitions tracing but in the organization’s ability to resist corruption.
Dimabel has a tall order to fill in its quest to provide the military with ammunition. Earlier this year, Ozuna estimated that the Paraguayan military requires between 4 and 5 million cartridges yearly.
What percentage of that number is deviated towards organized crime remains unclear.
In October 2021, the daughter of Ronald Acevedo, the former governor of the Amambay department, was shot dead alongside three others in a targeted assassination in Pedro Juan Caballero. An analysis of the bullet casings at the scene confirmed they were from Dimabel. Later that month, during a raid in the same city, police uncovered hundreds of rounds of Dimabel ammunition at a hitman’s stash house.
“The fact that Dimabel agents have been involved in this [activity] is another example of the complicity of the government,” Carlos Anibal Peris, an expert in Paraguayan organized crime, told InSight Crime. He added that poor salaries and the complete lack of a counterintelligence system to monitor corrupt agents contribute to institutional corruption within Dimabel.
But Peris also stressed that leaks from Dimabel to organized crime are not increasing. “I would not say that it is growing. It is an illegal business of insiders who have always been involved. Rather, it’s being maintained.”