Guatemala has extradited to the United States an alleged drug trafficker suspected of being at the center of several developing scandals linked to the administration of President Jimmy Morales and that of his disgraced predecessor, Otto Pérez Molina.
Authorities in Guatemala handed over Marlon Francesco Monroy Meoño, alias “El Fantasma” (The Ghost), and his wife Cynthia Janeth Cardona Sandoval to US officials on November 2, reported Reuters.
Monroy Meoño was captured on April 30 on orders from a US federal court in the Southern District of Florida, where he is wanted for conspiring to traffic over 500 kilograms of cocaine into the United States, according to elPeriódico.
Guatemala’s Interior Ministry alleges that Monroy Meoño served as a middleman for Colombian cocaine trafficking groups and Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. A former army official, Monroy Meoño reportedly used his contacts in the military to receive drug shipments passing through the ports of Iztapa and Monterrico on Guatemala’s Pacific coast, which were then moved north to Mexico and later the United States. According to elPeriódico, he began to control these drug transit areas following the arrest of his rival, Jairo Orellana, in May 2014.
Also on November 2, the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office raided the Presidential House and the headquarters of the Presidential Guard as part of a money laundering investigation. Financial and administrative documents were seized from the Presidential Guard’s office, but a spokesperson said no documents related to the case were found at the Presidential House.
InSight Crime Analysis
Monroy Meoño’s interest to the US government likely goes far beyond his involvement in drug trafficking. “The Ghost,” as he is known, is believed to be at the nexus of multiple high-level schemes that involve political elites and the organized crime networks embedded in the fabric of Guatemala’s power structures.
To begin with, Guatemala’s Interior Ministry says Monroy Meoño was recruited to kill Attorney General Thelma Aldana, who has led a vigorous campaign to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials. As InSight Crime has previously pointed out, the group who reached out to Monroy Meoño may have consisted of the same officials who suddenly found themselves under investigation or behind bars. And the liaison between Monroy Meoño and the shadowy group was reportedly none other than the former military officer Byron Lima, who was convicted in 2001 for the high-profile murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi.
Known as the “king” of Guatemala’s prisons for the control he wielded over the facilities, Lima has been tied to several covert military networks, including one that was once run by former President Otto Pérez Molina. Pérez Molina is now in jail on charges that he oversaw a massive fraud ring within the country’s customs office, among other allegations of corruption. Lima, meanwhile, died in a surprise attack this past July, which led to a multitude of conspiracy theories as to who may have killed him, and why.
For his part, Monroy Meoño has denied his alleged connection to the assassination plot against Aldana. He has reportedly admitted, however, to his central role in yet another alleged scheme, which has direct links to the administration of current President Jimmy Morales.
According to the Guatemalan news outlet Contrapoder, Monroy Meoño told US drug officials that he gave the son of Vice President Jafeth Cabrera $500,000 in campaign donations in exchange for the right to name the military officials who would fill four government posts. The posts were never filled by Monroy Meoño’s hand-picked officers, however, and he was later arrested. Aldana said that the Attorney General’s Office is analyzing the case, but there has been no confirmation that an official investigation has been opened.
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As for the investigation into money laundering at the Presidential Guard, Aldana stated that it is unrelated to the case involving the vice president’s son. But it could nonetheless be linked to people in Morales’ inner circle.
The commander of the Presidential Guard, Erick Servando Cano Zamora, has both professional and personal ties to Morales. The sister of Cano Zamora’s romantic partner reportedly had a child with the president out of wedlock. Cano Zamora was also the person who reportedly introduced Morales to Herbert Armando Melgar Padilla, a former military official and current congressman who served as the president’s security chief during his campaign.
It’s unclear whether Monroy Meoño is connected to the investigation of the Presidential Guard. But it may not be long before more details emerge about that case, as well as the others he has been linked to. In conversations made known to elPeriódico in the months prior to his extradition, Monroy Meoño indicated that he would have a lot to discuss with US authorities.