Former Santa Fe police commissioner Hugo Tognoli

Evidence of police corruption in northern Argentina illustrates how vulnerable the country is to organized crime, as domestic demand for cocaine rises and the country emerges as a regional trafficking hub, with one of Colombia's biggest capos captured there this week.

The case of Hugo Tognoli, former police commissioner of the northern Santa Fe province, provides a useful insight into the institutional crisis currently faced by the Argentine police. Tognoli was accused of receiving kickbacks from drug trafficking organizations based in Santa Fe. He resigned on October 19, and briefly went missing before turning himself in to authorities on October 21. Tognoli denies the charges against him.

Public prosecutors accuse Tognoli of organizing a scheme with local drug trafficking networks in which he took monthly payments of $150,000 in exchange for allowing them to operate in his area. The evidence against the police commissioner suggests that such arrangements were a hallmark of his leadership style. Investigators claim to have a record of a text message exchange between one of Tognoli’s subordinates and a brothel owner, in which the latter asked how much the commissioner would charge him to sell cocaine. “30,000 [pesos a month, or about $6,300] directly to Tognoli,” was the response.

As La Nacion notes, the arrest of Tognoli is not the only example of corruption in Santa Fe. The Buenos Aires-based daily claims that the province is a hotbed of drug trafficking, with hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit profits moving through Rosario, its largest city. Police collusion with illicit activity is widespread. Law enforcement sources consulted by La Nacion described an “anarchic” situation among police in Rosario, with lower level officers -- increasingly dissatisfied with their cut of drug profits -- charging traffickers of their own accord to operate in several neighborhoods in the city.

InSight Crime Analysis

Police corruption in Argentina, which has long been an issue, has taken on greater importance in light of the country’s emergence as a hub in the regional cocaine trade. Authorities are seeing a sharp rise in drug seizures, corresponding to a surge in demand for cocaine in the country.  With cocaine consumption -- particularly of a kind of crack cocaine known as “paco” -- taking off in Argentina, it has become the second largest consumer of the drug in Latin America after Brazil, accounting for an estimated 25 percent of cocaine use in the region.

In addition to serving as a major market for cocaine, the country is increasingly used as a transit point for trafficking networks. Argentina serves as a key link to both West Africa and the European cocaine market, which has seen an uptick in demand in recent years.

This surge in cocaine traffic has accompanied growing concern among officials over the presence of powerful transnational criminal organizations in the country. The Sinaloa Cartel’s Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was rumored to have taken refuge in Argentina in mid-2011, and a former lieutenant of Colombian drug kingpin Daniel "El Loco" Barrera was killed in April while hiding out in Buenos Aires.

With police corruption rampant in Argentina, the country may be ill-prepared for the rise of powerful drug trafficking organizations. President Cristina Fernandez created a new security ministry in 2010, partly out of a wish to address the problem, appointing the reform-minded Nilda Garre at its head. Garre has proven to be an innovative figure, overseeing a shake-up of the federal police command and promising to root out police corruption at all levels. Still, as the Tognoli case illustrates, the Argentine government will be hard pressed to tackle corruption without addressing both the culture of abuse and the financial incentives that drive police officials to accept money from criminals.

The country is also used as a hide-out for Colombian traffickers, with Urabeños boss Henry de Jesus Lopez, alias "Mi Sangre,” captured in a Buenos Aires supermarket this week.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

If we are to believe the Colombian government, the question is not if, but rather when, an end to 50 years of civil conflict will be reached. Yet the promise of President Juan Manuel Santos that peace can be achieved before the end of 2014 is simply...

The Infiltrators: Corruption in El Salvador's Police

The Infiltrators: Corruption in El Salvador's Police

Ricardo Mauricio Menesses Orellana liked horses, and the Pasaquina rodeo was a great opportunity to enjoy a party. He was joined at the event -- which was taking place in the heart of territory controlled by El Salvador's most powerful drug transport group, the Perrones -- by the...

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 leader Carlos Lechuga Mojica, alias "El Viejo Lin," is one of the most prominent spokesmen for El Salvador's gang truce. InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley spoke with Mojica in Cojutepeque prison in October 2012 about how the maras view the controversial peace process, which has...

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

While there is no doubt that the FARC have only a tenuous control over some of their more remote fronts, there is no evidence of any overt dissident faction within the movement at the moment.

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

On May 27, 1964 up to one thousand Colombian soldiers, backed by fighter planes and helicopters, launched an assault against less than fifty guerrillas in the tiny community of Marquetalia. The aim of the operation was to stamp out once and for all the communist threat in...

'Chepe Luna,' the Police and the Art of Escape

'Chepe Luna,' the Police and the Art of Escape

The United States -- which through its antinarcotics, judicial and police attaches was very familiar with the routes used for smuggling, and especially those used for people trafficking and understood that those traffickers are often one and the same -- greeted the new government of Elias Antonio...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

When considering the possibilities that the FARC may break apart, the Ivan Rios Bloc is a helpful case study because it is perhaps the weakest of the FARC's divisions in terms of command and control, and therefore runs the highest risk of fragmentation and criminalization.

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

In October 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). While this assertion seems unfounded, there is one case that illustrates just why the US government is worried about the future.