Part of the secret code

Authorities in Chile have used a secret code belonging to drug dealers to convict a suspect, in a case showing that, while criminal methods are constantly evolving, the most basic techniques can still throw authorities off the trail.

In 2010, Chile's national police, the Carabineros, arrested Leonardo Yañez Sepulveda with 80 grams of cocaine in Santiago. In his wallet, they found notes that detailed a coded language used by the traffickers to communicate via text messages, reported La Tercera. The notes contained a full explanation of how to use the coded alphabet, and how to decipher incoming coded messages (click on La Tercera's image below to see full-sized original).

The notes state: "The idea is to avoid using spaces, so it will be impossible for the investigative police (PDI) to decipher. They won't know that we are communicating, and it will be impossible to understand, unless they get this piece of paper, which you can't just have anywhere; you have to hide it."

Prosecutor Macarena Cañas said that for the authorities who analyzed the note, the find was completely novel. "It's like the Rosetta Stone; you have a complete dictionary," he said.

Four years later, on February 4, 2014, this same code was used to convict Yañez for drug trafficking and sentence him to three years in prison.

InSight Crime Analysis

There are plenty of examples of the ever-changing modalities used by drug traffickers to avoid detection. Trafficking methods can include converting cocaine to liquid form, hiding it in consumable products such as pastries, and having "mules" swallow liquid capsules. Major drug trafficking organizations often use coded language over radios tuned to special frequencies to communicate and track security force movement, and the equipment can be quite sophisticated.

This case in Chile, which evokes thoughts of an old mystery novel, takes things back to basics, illustrating that the simplest strategies can also still be used effectively at the local level. (While the case is not explained in detail, the fact Yañez was carrying only 80 grams of cocaine and received a relatively short sentence suggests he was little more than a street dealer.)

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Chile

It is also noteworthy that Chilean authorities managed to use this code, once they deciphered it, to achieve a conviction. The majority of criminal trials in Latin America continue to be dependent on witness testimony, which can be unreliable or hampered by fear and intimidation, disrupting justice in major cases.

 

Investigations

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

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions of ...

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

 Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

Well-armed vigilantes in Mexico's Michoacan state have helped authorities dismantle a powerful criminal organization, but now the government may have a more difficult task: keeping Michoacan safe from the vigilantes and rival criminal groups.

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

After the lower house passed the controversial marijuana bill July 31, Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug, and provide a model for countries looking for alternatives to the world’s dominant drug policy paradigm. ...

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

Whether it is sustainable or not, the truce -- which the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 put into place March 2012 -- has changed the conventional thinking about who the gangs are and what is the best way to handle the most difficult law and order ...

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Since the end of El Salvador's civil war, the country's police has become a key player in the underworld. This series of five articles explore the dark ties between criminal organizations and the government's foremost crime fighting institution.

Juarez after the War

Juarez after the War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality. InSight Crime looks at the role politicians, police, and for-hire street gangs played in the fighting -- asking who ...