Venezuelan cash seized in Rio de Janiero

Huge amounts of Venezuelan banknotes have turned up thousands of miles from the country's border for the second time in a month, raising questions about the potential criminal uses of a currency that has otherwise become completely worthless. 

Rio de Janeiro police officers, acting on an anonymous tip, seized 40 million Venezuelan bolivars hidden inside two stolen cars in the northern neighborhood of Caju, reported O Globo. The operation led to a shoot-out between state agents and a local drug trafficking gang, but there were no reported injuries. 

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

Officials are uncertain as to why the drug gang would be carrying around such a large quantity of Venezuelan currency, which has seen its value drop precipitously due to runaway inflation. The 40 million bolivars would be worth approximately $12,000 on the black market, but $4 million using the official exchange rate.

One of the possibilities authorities are considering is that the drug traffickers were using the money to purchase weapons from Venezuelan arms dealers. Two years ago, police found that Venezuelans had supplied over 100 rifles to Rio gangs, reported O Globo.

InSight Crime Analysis 

The seizure in Rio comes one month after authorities in eastern Paraguay made a startling discovery: 25 tons of bolivars hidden on the property of an alleged arms dealer. As in the most recent case, it was not immediately apparent how the cash was intended to be used. 

At the time, Paraguayan investigators suggested that the currency may have been acquired because the paper used to make bolivars can be bleached and reproduced as counterfeit dollars. 

"One possibility is that [the money] was used to acquire dollars in the Venezuelan black market, or that it would have been used to counterfeit dollars given the high quality of the paper used for Venezuelan bills," reads a statement from Paraguay's National Police.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Counterfeiting 

Indeed, the 25 tons of bolivars were reportedly offered to counterfeiters for $1 million. That is probably the highest value that could have been fetched for a currency that has become largely worthless due to Venezuela's worsening economic crisis. 

The country's downward spiral has given rise to a number of other criminal opportunities as well. The scarcity of US dollars on the open market has made Venezuelan companies increasingly vulnerable to money laundering schemes. And corrupt officials have reportedly turned to trafficking basic goods such as flour, which have become more valuable on the black market as food shortages worsen. 

Investigations

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

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself treading water amidst a flurry of accusations about corruption and his connections to drug traffickers. López Bonilla is not the most well-known suspect in the cases against...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...