HomeNewsParaguay Grapples with Criminal Sophistication After Prosecutor's Slaying
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Paraguay Grapples with Criminal Sophistication After Prosecutor's Slaying

COLOMBIA / 12 MAY 2022 BY SERGIO SAFFON AND CARLOS PERIS EN

The assassination of a crusading Paraguayan prosecutor while on honeymoon in Colombia has caused widespread alarm about the rising levels of sophistication and brazenness of Paraguayan criminal groups.

The killing of Paraguayan prosecutor Marcelo Pecci – who was shot dead May 10 on the island of Barú – involved a complex operation that originated in Paraguay, Colombian authorities said.

“The murder of Paraguayan prosecutor Marcelo Pecci was linked to a transnational organized crime network with a high-level of planning and investment in resources,” Colombia’s police chief, Jorge Luis Vargas, wrote on Twitter on May 11.

The president of Paraguay’s Senate, Oscar Salomón, told the press that intelligence from Colombian authorities indicated the assassination order came from Paraguay.

SEE ALSO: Paraguay's Narco-Politics Exposed By Colossal Anti-Drug Operation

Pecci was one of the foremost anti-crime prosecutors in the country, working on a number of high-profile cases over the last decade. Most recently, he had been working on A Ultranza PY, an anti-drug operation that dismantled a criminal network moving cocaine from Paraguay to Europe. The probe into the network implicated politicians, army personnel and business elites, according to the BBC. He also investigated Brazil’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), which maintains a large presence in Paraguay. He was a lead investigator on the “Zootopia” case, which helped to break up an important Brazilian drug trafficking operation in Paraguay.   

His wife, Claudia Aguilera, said after his murder that her husband had never previously received death threats.

InSight Crime Analysis

Organized crime in Paraguay has become more sophisticated in recent years due to the country's increasing role as a major hub for cocaine and marijuana trafficking. The country has also long been a hotbed for contraband, particularly cigarettes, and it consistently ranks among the most corrupt countries in Latin America.

The assassination of its leading anti-crime prosecutor in a foreign country marks a startling escalation in the reach of organized crime. Besides Colombian authorities speculating that Pecci’s murder could have been carried out by the Urabeños, a drug trafficking group that controls the region where the hit took place, no specific groups or individuals have been identified as the authors of the killing.

SEE ALSO: Drug Trafficking and Political Protection in Paraguay: The Case of ‘Cucho’ Cabaña

The murder comes amid a number of worrying criminal trends in the country.

First, the number of contract killings is soaring. Twenty-five targeted assassinations, or one about every 28 hours, were recorded in January, an uptick from the previous record of 23 in October 2021.

In April, Paraguay’s police chief, Gilberto Freitas, blamed the increase of contract killings on conflicts between Paraguayan gangs, which had succeeded in displacing Brazilian groups, such as the PCC, before turning on each other.

Second, the country’s political corruption is infamous, and a series of recent cases has provided concrete examples of just how deep it goes. The Ultranza case, in which Pecci was a prosecutor, has implicated a government minister, senior government officials and business elites. Pecci himself led some of the Ultranza raids against properties connected to suspects in the case, according to newspaper La Nación.

The day after Pecci’s killing, InSight Crime interviewed agents at Paraguay’s anti-narcotics agency, who explained that the Ultranza case was a source of uncertainty for those who are already, or may soon be, under investigation.

“They are all on a glass roof. They are afraid of falling. And when they fall, very important people and a very complex structure will fall too,” said one of the agents, who requested anonymity.

Third, the country is at the heart of Latin America’s drug trade. While Paraguay is not a cocaine producer, it has become a crucial link for drugs being moved between Bolivia and Brazil. This has led to the aforementioned conflicts between Brazilian and local gangs, such as a series of brutal murders between the PCC and the local Rotela Clan.

The influx of traffickers and criminal actors has predictably led to politicians increasingly being accused of links to them. Speaking to the senate the day Pecci was killed, Esperanza Martínez, a lawmaker for the opposition Guasú Front, stated that “drug trafficking has shown its power with impunity…there can be no future or development in a country controlled by drug trafficking and organized crime."

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