Argentina’s authorities believe a criminal network from Colombia was behind a major drug export operation, indicative of the prominent role that Colombians continue to play in the region’s transnational drug trade.
In a series of raids conducted between September 17-19, Argentine custom officials found over 1,000 bags of rice infused with some 20 kilograms of cocaine on a ship bound to the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau. They went on to arrest nine Colombians and three Argentines in what has come to be known as the “Narco Rice” case, reported La Nacion.
The cocaine-infused rice was reportedly a trial run for the drug trafficking group, who planned to use this technique to smuggle larger drug shipments to Europe. The group is reportedly headed by Colombian nationals Williams Triana Peña and his brother Erman, who allegedly established themselves in Argentina in 2012. They have been linked to various Colombian cartels, most recently the Urabeños.
The Colombian drug ring relied on a wide-ranging network of collaborators in Argentina, including an oncologist who developed the technique for fusing cocaine onto rice. Other alleged members included an ex-Colombian police officer and the former deputy secretary at Argentina’s Interior Ministry, who was reportedly instrumental in settiung up several front companies used to launder dirty money.
The criminal group’s activities first came to the attention of the authorities in 2011, following several drug seizures, reported Infobae. In 2012, members of the criminal network made contact with an Eastern European criminal group, a separate La Nacion report said, citing the United Kingdom’s Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA). The Eastern European group was reportedly looking to open a new drug route from Argentina to Europe.
The Triana Peña brothers and many other suspected leaders of the operation remain at large.
La Nacion’s profile on suspects in the Narco Rice case
InSight Crime Analysis
This case is illustrative of several wider dynamics in Argentina’s transnational drug trade. The first is the ongoing importance of Colombian-run criminal organizations based in Argentina. Top-level Colombian drug traffickers and their associates have previously used the country as a hide-out and as a place to do business. While there are also multiple examples of sophisticated drug trafficking organizations being run primarily by Argentines, the Narco Rice case is evidence that Colombian nationals continue to play a major role in running transnational drug trafficking operations in Argentina.
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Additionally, the group’s reported use of an ex-Interior Ministry employee to lauder funds is indicative of how the drug trade is capable of corrupting officials at all levels in Argentina. This recently prompted the former head of the Buenos Aires police force to compare Argentina’s current state of affairs to the Colombia of Pablo Escobar.
It is also unsurprising that this criminal network made contact with a mafia group based in Eastern Europe. The European market has become increasingly important for Latin America’s drug trafficking networks, and members of the Italian mafia in particular have been known to use Argentina as a refuge.