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In Paraguay, cocaine trafficking traces its path – Liberation

An emerging hub of the global drug market, the South American country, rocked by the assassination of a drug prosecutor, football corruption cases and the threat of a very powerful Brazilian cartel, seems helpless in the face of to organized crime.

On Wednesday, the Paraguayan press announced the capture of one of the most wanted men in the country: Diego Benítez Cañete, prosecuted for drug trafficking. This former manager of the football club Olimpia Asunción had not been found since March, when an arrest warrant was issued against him. He was reportedly detained in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Thursday, Interior Minister Federico González called for caution, stressing that Interpol had not officially confirmed the arrest.

For Paraguayan justice, Diego Benítez is most likely the man who conveyed to Europe, by boat, a cargo of 16.2 tons of cocaine seized on February 10, 2021 in the port of Hamburg. It is a historic catch, the largest ever in Europe. Certainly far from world records, established in the United States: 20 tons in Los Angeles in 1989, 27 tons in August 2021 in Florida.

Paint cans

The stock from the port of Hamburg had traveled in several containers. The cocaine bars were concealed in 17,000 metal cans of paint. The sender: Pinturas Tupa, a company based in Limpio, near the capital Asunción. Its founder and director is Diego Benítez Cañete. The recipient: an importer from Rotterdam, referred to by the press as Atif. After the gigantic seizure by German customs officers, the investigators had noticed that the same Dutch import office was waiting in Antwerp for another shipment, coming from Panama. Ten days later, re-bingo: 7.2 tons of cocaine are discovered, this time in a delivery of wood.

In Paraguay, the paint dealer swears his good faith: he claims to be a victim of “international organized crime” who would have introduced the drugs into the containers without his knowledge. Perhaps during a stopover in Buenos Aires, since the container ship is both river and sea. It sails on the Paraguay River, then on the Paraná in Argentina, and reaches the Atlantic via the Rio de la Plata estuary.

However, it was not thanks to the plaster and acrylic trade that Diego Benítez became known in his country. In 2017, he was appointed manager of Olimpia Asunción, the dean of Paraguayan football (it was created in 1902) and the most successful club. the franjeado (nickname due to its white jersey crossed out by a large black fringe) was even crowned the best team in the world in 1979, by winning the Intercontinental Cup. In 2018, the president of the club, the young and ambitious Marco Trovato, brought Benitez into the management committee of the Olimpia.

Match-fixing

His arrival coincides with a series of excellent results: between 2018 and 2020, the franjeado won several national titles. Too much perhaps: following suspicious results, Fifa launched an investigation, the result of which was overwhelming for the management team. At least 12 matches have been arranged for the benefit of Olimpia, opposing players having lowered their foot for money. Messages exchanged on telephone messaging and clumsily used checks are the exhibits.

Marco Trovato receives the heaviest sanctions provided for by FIFA regulations: a lifetime ban on holding responsibilities in a club, and a fine of 100,000 Swiss francs. He drags his friend Benitez down with him. But non-sporting justice is also interested in the two men. Benitez was the manager of a non-profit foundation to which all the financial activities of the Olimpia had been transferred. An opaque apparatus in which the Secretariat for the Prevention of Money Laundering (Seprelad) detects a large number of accounting oddities.

Many analyses, including that of the NGO Insight Crime, which specializes in the study of crime in Latin America, point out that Paraguay has become one of the main crossing points for cocaine trafficking, and that the influence of Brazilian organized crime is increasingly present there. The city of Pedro Juan Caballero, in the east of the country, is a good example. A wide avenue acts as a border: one sidewalk is in Paraguay, the other is in Ponta Porã, Brazil. Stronghold of traffickers like any border city, it has been under the control of the First Commando of the Capital (PCC), the most powerful cartel in Brazil for fifteen years. Who gradually (and violently) eliminated the local mafia families to ensure the monopoly of illicit trade.

Old fashioned escape

The omnipotence of the CCP was on full display in January 2020, with the escape of 76 cartel members from the city jail. In the old way: they had dug a simple tunnel 40 meters long between the toilets and the street. Outside, five vans were waiting for them, without arousing the slightest suspicion. “It is obvious that the staff knew and did nothing”, had estimated the Minister of Justice, Cecilia Pérez. The director of the penitentiary had been dismissed, and thirty guards arrested.

In the following days, another warning shot: two senior officials resigned after being implicated in a report by the Brazilian Ministry of Justice, which suspected them of having received gifts and bribes from the godfather of the CCP, Sergio de Arruda Quintiliano Neto, alias “the Minotaur”, imprisoned in Brazil since 2019. He was a prosecutor and the deputy minister of criminal policy, Hugo Volpe. Justice having opened no investigation against him, he converted and, having become a lawyer, he now defends Diego Benítez, the paint dealer.

These files were partly followed by the prosecutor Marcelo Pecci, 45, killed on May 10 on a beach in Colombia where he was spending his honeymoon. Five executors were arrested, and Colombian police chief General Jorge Luis Vargas clearly named the CCP as the mastermind behind the assassination in a tweet. The cartel would have paid the 530,000 dollars that was shared by the commando united to carry out the contract: the coordinator, the driver, the shooter and the two fixers responsible for locating the target to be shot down, on the Caribbean island of Baru. A task within the reach of the first comer, since the magistrate and his wife posted their vacation images on Instagram.

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