The minerals seized during the operation

Authorities in Colombia have captured a key operative who facilitated the sale of coltan and uranium for the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups, in a case highlighting the role corrupt officials play in the lucrative illegal mining industry.

In a joint operation carried out by the Colombian Navy and the investigative unit of the Attorney General's Office, authorities arrested Juan Jose Rivera Suarez, known as the "czar of coltan," reported El Tiempo. According to investigators, Rivera used a legal company to export shipments of coltan and other minerals that were illegally mined in protected indigenous reserves. The minerals were sent to the United States, where the coltan was used in computer and appliance factories.

Witness testimony and communications interceptions indicate that Rivera's network had a number of local and departmental government officials and members of security forces on its payroll.

During the operation to capture Rivera, authorities seized 375 kilos of minerals, including uranium, which investigators believe was purchased in Venezuela and destined for the United States.

Authorities are investigating alleged links between US companies and Rivera's criminal network, reported El Espectador.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are involved in coltan mining in both eastern Colombia and Venezuela, and use the mineral to finance their insurgency. As demonstrated by Rivera's case, the FARC depend on intermediaries and corrupt public officials to export the mineral, which is used to manufacture electronic devices. In 2011, the former director of Colombia's police stated that the Sinaloa Cartel was working with the FARC to mine and commercialize coltan.

SEE ALSO: FARC News and Profiles

According to documents seized from the camp of deceased FARC leader Raul Reyes, the FARC are also involved in uranium trafficking. This is especially troubling because uranium can be used to create nuclear bombs, and the FARC could potentially be selling the material to terrorist groups.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) also generate revenue through illegal mining, mainly by charging miners to work and bring mining machinery into ELN territory.