A gang, which modified aircraft to be able to carry cocaine from Colombia to the United States and Mexico, has provided another example of how specific aspects of the drug trafficking supply chain are being outsourced to experts.
On September 3, Colombian authorities arrested eight people allegedly belonging to a network that modified planes to carry drugs between Colombia, the United States and Central America. The group also reportedly facilitated the takeoff of these planes from runways along Colombia's Pacific coast. The suspects were arrested in the departments of Bogotá, Valle del Cauca, Atlántico, Meta and Chocó, showing their nationwide presence, according to a statement from the Attorney General's Office.
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While two small planes were seized in the raids, it is believed the group used hangars at Barranquilla's Ernesto Cortissoz airport to improve aircrafts' flight time, build in hidden compartments and increase their capacity to carry drugs. The planes were then loaded with cocaine, usually from clandestine runways in Colombia's northwestern departments of Sucre and Chocó.
The group included the manager of an aviation services agency, a professional pilot, two air traffic controllers, an aviation technician, and two people in charge of bribing aviation officials to let the planes fly, according to the same document.
InSight Crime Analysis
The drug trafficking supply chain from Colombia to American and European markets is becoming so complex that larger criminal groups are happy to outsource specific aspects to expert "brokers."
This group responsible for sourcing aircraft to carry cocaine loads north is but the latest example of this increasing trend, especially in Colombia, the world’s top cocaine producer.
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Another example was seen in late 2020 when a gang specialized in building semi-submersibles to transport drugs was dismantled in Colombia. The submarines, loaded with cocaine shipments, were sent by the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), among other groups, from Colombia's Pacific coast to Mexico.
The trend has grown, extending to transnational criminal economies. Dedicated money laundering rings have helped drug traffickers from Colombia, Mexico and beyond hide their illegal earnings around the world.
Finally, other brokers act as middlemen between criminal groups around the world, facilitating drug trafficking and money laundering arrangements. In December 2020, an Israeli national was arrested in Colombia accused of connecting different mafia actors in Colombia, Japan and Israel.