According to Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office, many of the assets belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are held overseas, an indication of the rebels’ reach as a transnational criminal organization.
The Attorney General’s Office calculates that just 30 percent of the FARC’s assets are based in Colombia, according to newspaper El Tiempo. The other 70 percent are based overseas in countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico. The Attorney General’s Office have also traced FARC assets to European countries like Norway, Holland, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden, El Tiempo reported.
The FARC’s annual income from the drug trade and other illicit activities is estimated to be some $1.1 billion, according to the Attorney General’s Office calculations. This is in contrast to a previous estimate by the United Nations Development program in 2003, which calculated that the FARC’s average annual income at $342 million, $204 million of which was derived from the drug trade. InSight Crime believes the current figure to be between the two, but with some of the rebel income sticking to the hands of lower and middle ranking commanders.
As the US Treasury Deparment’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has detailed, the FARC has an extensive transnational money laundering network. The 27th Front, for example, worked with one designated money launderer, Jose Cayetano Melo Perilla, who used several companies based overseas, including the Venezuela-based Carillanca C.A. and the Costa Rica-based Carillanca S.A., to handle FARC funds.
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One problem is that asides from the FARC assets held overseas, individual rebel ‘Fronts’ are responsible for their finances and investments at a local level. It is hard to predict how commanders on the ground will react to the political negotiations carried out thousands of miles away. These local commanders need the incentive to turn themselves in and hand over their financial holdings, and it is unclear how the FARC’s political leadership (or the Colombian government) will prompt them to do so. With negotiations on the horizon, Front commanders will likely focus on building up their own personal war chest, to ensure that no matter how the peace dialogues turn out, they will remain in an advantageous financial position.
Another difficulty will be unraveling the international network of assets presumably held by the FARC’s International Front (also known as the International Commission – COMINTER), charged with handling diplomatic activity and propaganda overseas. The head of the COMINTER also happens to be one of the FARC’s official negotiators with the government: political hardliner Luciano Marin Arango, alias “Ivan Marquez.” It is possible that when discussing turning in some of the FARC’s financial assets, this could clash with some of Marquez’s personal financial interests and rebel ambitions to establish a political party.
Tracking the extent of the FARC’s illicit assets — and deciding how the FARC should hand them over — could greatly complicate the upcoming peace talks with the government, set to begin in October in Norway. The FARC’s top leadership would presumably have to turn in many of these holdings as part of their overall demobilization and reparation to victims. The process will likely be a painful and difficult one, if the prior demobilization of paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is any indication. The AUC’s assets were supposed to be used for the reparation for victims of paramilitary violence, but as investigative website Verdad Abierta has reported, few paramilitaries have actually revealed their land and business holdings, let alone handed them over to the government. The process with the FARC is unlikely to be any easier.