Colombia to Mexico Precursor Operation Dismantled

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Authorities in Colombia have dismantled an organization dedicated to providing precursor chemicals to Mexican cartels, illustrating how tightening restrictions on chemical sales in one country can lead to growth of the criminal trade in another. 

Colombia’s Police Narcotics Division arrested six people in swoops in the cities of Bogota, Armenia and Bello, after an operation importing the chemicals ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from China, India, Germany and Russia was uncovered during a three-year investigation, reported El Espectador.

The group used a factory in Bogota — ostensibly producing flu and cold remedies — as a front for the importation of the chemicals, which were then sent on to Mexico via Central America, reported La Nacion. There, they were used for the production of methamphetamine destined for sale in the United States.

The group’s alleged leader and the owner of two front companies used to carry out the crime, Francisco Antonio Lugo Torres, was one of the six arrested, reported Semana. According to the reports, Lugo became involved in the trade sometime during 2009 or 2010, after being contacted by a Mexican criminal group. The chemicals were sent on to Central America hidden inside shipments of vitamins and neck pillows.

InSight Crime Analysis

Mexican cartels are the main producers and distributors of methamphetamine in Latin America, and it is a business they appear to be expanding — according to the State Department 2013 International Narcotics Strategy Report, discoveries of meth labs in Mexico have been increasing, with 267 uncovered in 2012, compared to 227 in 2011. 

However, this expansion has been hampered by legislation regulating the sale and movement of precursor chemicals, especially pseudoephedrine, which since 2008 has been tightly controlled within Mexico. This has forced groups to look for new ways to acquire the chemical or new ways to synthesize meth

China is a major source of the chemicals and Mexican authorities have continued to interdict massive shipments in recent years, despite the regulations. Cartels have also shifted precursor sourcing and meth production in part to Central America, where regulation and oversight is looser.

In Colombia, the fight against precursor chemicals has historically focused on the importation of substances used to process coca leaves into cocaine, leaving room for the growth of operations exporting meth precursors, such as the one recently dismantled. The case was the first time authorities have uncovered a network dedicated to meth precursors in Colombia, according to the police antinarcotics director Ricardo Alberto Restrepo Londoño.

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