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Is Dominican Republic Making Gains in Anti-Corruption Fight?

CARIBBEAN / 13 SEP 2021 BY JULIANA MANJARRÉS EN

The dismantling of a drug trafficking and money laundering network implicating government officials in the Dominican Republic has presented a serious challenge to President Luis Abinader’s anti-corruption drive.

Prosecutor Yeni Berenice Reynoso announced September 8 that security forces carried out more than 80 searches across the country as part of the so-called Operation Falcón, according to an official press release.

Among the more than 20 people arrested was Juan Maldonado Castro, the head of Comunidad Digna (Dignified Community), a government-run organization fighting poverty. Also under investigation is Héctor Darío Féliz Féliz, a deputy from the opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Dominicano - PRD), according to prosecutor Reynoso. Authorities said he was caught helping one of the suspects escape, but was not arrested due to his parliamentary immunity.

SEE ALSO: Sweeping Corruption Probe Tests Dominican Republic’s Anti-Graft Fight

Using drug trafficking proceeds, prosecutor Reynoso said the criminal network amassed hundreds of properties, gas stations, farms, high-end vehicles, high-powered weapons and nightclubs, among other things. The group also allegedly "directly supported" certain unidentified legislators through financing their campaigns.

Maldonado Castro has since been suspended from his government role, and prosecutors have requested 18 months of pretrial detention for 21 of those detained as part of the operation.

“I promised this country that there would be no impunity, I promised this country there was going to be an Attorney General’s Office that would act, ... and that's what is happening,” President Abinader said September 8.

InSight Crime Analysis

Since coming to power a year ago, President Abinader has made rooting out corruption one of his government's top priorities. In December 2020, he presented an integral plan to do just that and also recover stolen public funds.

Since then, this commitment has repeatedly been put to the test.

Much of his government’s efforts have been focused on prosecuting officials and their family members from the administration of former president Danilo Medina (2016-2020). Top government officials and relatives of Medina have been investigated for a range of corruption charges.

SEE ALSO: Police Reform Top Concern for New Dominican Republic President

But Abinader’s own administration hasn't been spared by official corruption. A former public health minister was fired for approving a massively inflated contract to buy needles, while a high-ranking police official was dismissed for irregularities in handing out gun licenses, according to reports from El Nacional.

“Growing state prosecution of corruption cases in the Dominican Republic does not mean there is an increase in such cases, but shows the presidential drive to attack corruption in this country,” Félix Damián Olivares, a well-known criminal lawyer in the Dominican Republic, told InSight Crime.  

However, there is a risk that these anti-corruption gains could easily be unraveled. The success of the Dominican Republic’s anti-corruption fight remains wholly dependent on the goodwill of the government in power, according to Claudia Álvarez, a lawyer and anti-money laundering expert.

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