Extortion and money laundering are rising in Peru

A top police official has highlighted the growing problem of extortion in Peru, amid reports that $10 billion is laundered in the country each year, in a sign local criminals could be adopting methods popular elsewhere in the region.

General Cesar Cortijo, the director of Peru's Criminal Investigation Office (DIRINCRI), told InSight Crime that "the growing problem facing the Peruvian police is an increase in extortion. This is particularly relevant in the construction sector, but is now becoming more generalized."

SEE ALSO: Peru News and Profiles

The growth of the problem is evident in the transport sector. According to Chiclayo prosecutor Juan Carrasco Millones, 14,000 taxi drivers in the northern coastal city pay fees to the manager of their company, which are then remitted to local gangs, reported Peru 21. Carrasco said Chiclayo gangs have collected over $900,000 in extortion fees since 2012, paid directly by the victims into some 150 bank accounts, which each receive between $18,000 and $45,000 before being closed.

Extortion is one important contributor to the country's growing money laundering problem, which the country's Attorney General Jose Antonio Pelaez Bardales says is now worth $10 billion a year, reported La Republica, a major increase from the slightly over $5 billion reported in 2011.

InSight Crime Analysis

Earlier this year, the managers of 33 transport companies in the Lambayeque province, where Chiclayo is located, came under fire for collaborating with criminal groups running extortion rackets by charging fees to their employees. Similar forms of micro-extortion are also common in Colombia, and the fact that at least one Colombian gang has been found operating in Peru makes it possible Peruvian gangs are learning their methods from Colombian groups.

Money laundering profits in Peru are estimated to account for up to 3.5 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Along with extortion, major illicit industries in the country include illegal gold mining, estimated by the country's top anti-drugs lawyer to be worth $3 billion a year, drug trafficking, worth around $1.2 billion, illegal timber extraction, worth up to $500 million, and domestic human trafficking.

Casinos and budget hotels are two major enterprises used to launder illicit funds: in June, Lima authorities reported a large increase in the number of such businesses in the capital.

The crime is also facilitated by the impunity which its perpetrators enjoy -- despite attempts by Peruvian authorities to increase controls -- and by widespread corruption, with numerous politicians investigated for money laundering and drug trafficking ties.