The five suspects arrested on October 17

Ecuadorean police have dismantled two criminal networks stretching from South and Central America to Eastern Europe, highlighting Ecuador's growing role as hub for transnational crime.

On October 7, Ecuadorean police, with the help of Polish authorities, executed a series of raids in Guayaquil and Montañita that led to the seizure of some $80,000 in cash and the arrest of seven people. According to El Comercio, the group was involved in drug trafficking and money laundering, with connections in Lithuania, Ukraine, and Panama.

On October 17, a joint investigation between the Ecuadorean Attorney General's Office and Ukrainian police led to the arrest of five Ecuadoreans in the southwestern city of Machala. These men were allegedly involved in a drug trafficking network led by a recently-arrested Ukrainian kingpin.

The Attorney General's Office is currently investigating whether these two groups are connected.

InSight Crime Analysis

Ecuador's emergence as a hotspot for transnational crime led Jay Bergman, the director of the Drug Enforcement Administration's operations in the Andes, to describe the country as the "United Nations" of organized crime. In the past few years, Ecuador has seen an increase in the acitivites of Russian, Chinese, Albanian, Colombian, and Mexican organized criminal groups, and witnessed an explosion of African and Asian nationals moving through the country.

There are several factors that have contributed to Ecuador's growing importance as a meeting ground for transnational crime: lax visa policies, political instability, proximity to some of Colombia's most prolific drug cultivation areas and the use of the US dollar as official currency (which has facilitated money laundering).

The only potential silver lining is the resulting increase in transnational law enforcement cooperation between Ecuador and European countries. Last month, for instance, Ecuadorean police conducted an operation with Belgian and Dutch law enforcement that led to the seizure of eight tons of cocaine shipped from Ecuador and bound for the Netherlands that was worth around $647 million.