The MS13 operated a propane gas business

A case against the MS13 operating in El Salvador's capital city shows how the gang's money laundering side is getting more sophisticated, even as it remains reliant on violence for control of its revenue streams.

The Centrales Locos Salvatruchos (CLS) clique of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) street gang used extortion proceeds from San Salvador's central market to set up various businesses, most recently a propane gas distribution service, reported La Prensa Gráfica.

The CLS made as much as $50,000 a month from the market, according to El Mundo. This "petty cash," collected and stored in a centralized point, formerly covered expenses such as weapons and drug acquisitions, as well as lawyers' fees.

But managing such a large influx of cash required front businesses, the report said. And it appears that owning breweries, clothing and food stores was not enough for the CLS.

By January 2015, the clique was selling propane to local vendors, after having succeeded in obtaining permits for its company to legally operate and accreditation for its members to become registered gas distributors, the report says.

InSight Crime Analysis

The CLS' propane business is the latest example of how sophisticated the clique's operations had become in the central market. Earlier reports of the CLS' successful takeover of the weapons black market in the area, for instance, signaled the organizational capacity to assert control over a local trade traditionally composed of independent actors.

Despite the clique's sophistication evidenced by these operations -- and mirrored by the MS13 at a macro level both inside and outside of the country -- the CLS still relies on violence to conduct its operations.

SEE ALSO: MS13 News and Profile

Indeed, while criminal sophistication often allows for a less coercive modus operandi, San Salvador's area under the CLS's yoke continues to suffer from outbreaks of lethal violence, due most likely to the high level of territorial control that the clique's criminal activities demand.

A total of 22 security guards were assassinated in the area since September 2013, while violent incidents such as the one that left six dead earlier this year suggest that a latent conflict is playing out between the gang and other criminal actors for control of the extortion and other criminal proceeds.

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...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power. In rural sectors, uniformed BACRIM armed with assault rifles still patrol in...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

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...

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...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

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...

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...