El Salvador Police Underestimate Extortion: Reluctance to Report

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El Salvador’s police said that criminals received $8 million in extortion fees over a 20-month period, a number that business unions insist is just a fraction of the real figure, due to the fact that most cases are not being reported to police. 

In a report obtained by InSight Crime via La Prensa Grafica, the National Civil Police reported that a total of $7.9 million in extortion fees was paid out in El Salvador between January 2013 and August 15, 2014. According to the document, the most common victims were businesses owners, who lost $2.2 million to a reported 1,448 cases of extortion. Police figures showed that other interest groups heavily impacted by extortion included larger companies and the public transportation sector. Another 1,113 extortion victims didn’t identify their profession, but lost a total of $1.8 million during the 20-month period.  

In contrast, business unions claimed criminal groups earn at least $53 million from extorting the commercial sector each year, reported La Prensa Grafica. According to a survey conducted by the National Council of Small Businesses of El Salvador (CONAPES), 97 percent of businesses are being extorted, but most haven’t reported the crime due to a lack of trust in the police.

InSight Crime Analysis

The huge discrepancy between the number of extortion cases registered by police and those registered by the business sector highlights how reluctant people are to report the crime, thanks to a combination of mistrust in law enforcement officials and the belief that reporting would be futile. This problem is not limited to El Salvador’s business sector. According to police figures, there were only 168 cases of extortion in the public transportation sector during the 20-month period, costing the industry a total of $217,000, but public transportation unions told El Diario de Hoy in January that they pay around $3 million a month in extortion fees.   

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Extortion is a major source of income for El Salvador’s powerful street gangs, including the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18. In the past, gangs have used a variety of tactics to extort individuals and businesses, including exploiting poorly regulated money transfer systems and largely unregulated private security companies to extort the business and transportation industries. 

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