Colombian Crime Groups Export Loan Sharking to Peru

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Authorities in Peru are warning about the involvement of Colombian crime groups in loan sharking, suggesting these organizations are expanding their participation in this activity outside of their home country.

In an article published by La República on October 16, police officials told the news outlet that investigations have detected a criminal activity known as “gota a gota” (drop by drop) in nearly 100 cities across Peru, and that authorities have linked some of these operations to Colombian crime groups like the Urabeños, the Oficina de Envigado and La Empresa.

Agents from the Criminal Investigation Directorate (Dirección de Investigación Criminal – DIRINCRI) told La República that “gota a gota” consists of lending small sums of money at high interest rates — sometimes up to 100 percent — to people who have trouble obtaining traditional loans, like small business owners, housewives, and students.

“Gota a gota” loans are usually made on a short-term basis, and repayment is typically expected within 20 days. If borrowers fail to pay back the loan and the accumulated interest, the lenders often threaten, beat or even kill the debtors.

“These subjects, when they first engage with the customers, appear friendly and sympathetic in order to ingratiate themselves with the clients,” said Luis Montoya, the former director general of Peru’s National Police (Policía Nacional del Perú – PNP). “However, when [borrowers] are slow to pay, they are first threatened and even beaten and [the lenders] begin to operate as true mafias.”

Colombian law enforcement has detected “gota a gota” operations in more than 180 municipalities in that country, and similar operations run by Colombian crime groups have been uncovered in several other nations throughout Latin America, including Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and Honduras.

InSight Crime Analysis

Loan sharking activities like “gota a gota” hold a number of attractions for Colombian criminal organizations. For one, these schemes allow crime groups to launder the proceeds of other illegal activities in a way that earns them further profits. And expanding these activities to other countries makes illicit financial flows even harder for authorities to detect.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering

As InSight Crime has previously pointed out, this relatively low-risk criminal activity fills a real void for the majority of Latin American citizens who lack access to formal banking. However, this illicit business is often accompanied by violence, and it helps feed the coffers of criminal organizations that engage in even more nefarious activities.

The Peruvian-Colombian criminal nexus dates back decades; former Peruvian spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos sold weapons to Colombian rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) in the late 1990s

Still, the expansion of grass-roots criminal activities such as “gota a gota” in Peru and other countries in Latin America could serve as another indication of a pattern InSight Crime has previously highlighted: the migration of Colombian criminals throughout the region. Not only are Colombian crime organizations apparently attempting to evade increased pressure from law enforcement in their home country, they also seem to be seeking control over key criminal economies abroad.

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