An accused Brazilian trafficker who set himself up as an armored car dealer in Paraguay is the latest example of a Brazil underworld figure making a home in Paraguay, which is emerging as a vital crossroads for the cocaine trade.

The arrest of Marcus Vinicius Espíndola Marques de Padua on charges of drug trafficking has generated shockwaves in Paraguay, where Interior Minister Arnaldo Giuzzio was removed from his post on February 22 after he was found to have used one of Espindola’s vehicles, La Nación reported.

Espíndola has been linked to at least six Paraguay-based companies, including a business in the border city of Ciudad del Este that imported high-end vehicles and then outfitted them with bulletproof armor, Última Hora reported.

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

Espíndola’s arrest came as part of a massive operation that dismantled a transatlantic cocaine smuggling ring, in which drugs were moved from Paraguay to Brazil and then dispatched to European ports concealed in shipping containers. Also targeted in the February 15 sting, called “Operation Turf,” was Lindomar Reges Furtado, another Brazilian national who resides in Paraguay. Furtado – wanted on drug trafficking charges – is on the run after escaping authorities when they came to arrest him at Paraná Country Club on the outskirts of Ciudad del Este.

InSight Crime Analysis

Paraguay is making a name for itself as a destination on the organized crime map, including serving as a home base for traffickers and gangs from neighboring Brazil.

Brazil’s most powerful gang, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC, has made its presence felt in Paraguay, particularly in border regions where it has displaced other criminal actors. Criminal alliances have also allowed the gang to expand into the neighboring country.

SEE ALSO: Landlocked Paraguay Becoming Major Cocaine Link to Europe

One of the most infamous cases of a Brazilian criminal finding safe haven in Paraguay was major money launderer Dario Messer, who managed to gain Paraguayan citizenship. After becoming a fugitive in Brazil, Messer holed up in Paraguay, using his connections to then-president Horacio Cartes.

Meanwhile, the landlocked country’s river ports are increasingly becoming platforms for exporting cocaine.

At the beginning of 2022, the son of a former Paraguayan congressman was arrested along with three other people, including a Ukrainian citizen, on charges of trafficking cocaine from Paraguay to Europe. Close to a ton of cocaine was seized.

Traffickers have also managed to infiltrate the country’s political establishment. InSight Crime exposed how Paraguay Congressman Ulises Quintana may have personally protected a major drug trafficker and facilitated his crimes.

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