El Salvador to Create New Money Laundering Police Unit

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El Salvador’s government has approved the creation of a police unit to combat financial crimes, a welcome move in one the region’s most attractive money laundering locations, but one unlikely to see results unless coupled with serious attempts to tackle corruption.

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes signed a decree creating a Financial Crimes Division of the national police, which will target money laundering operations and funds linked to drug trafficking, according to a government press release.

The same decree will separate the administrative and operative departments of the police, with the goal of increasing the body’s efficiency.

Funes also plans to send a bill to the Legislative Assembly in coming days which, if approved, will serve to regulate the use of funds seized from criminals, allocating some of this money to the budget of the Security and Justice Ministry, reported La Pagina.

InSight Crime Analysis

According to the US government, El Salvador’s dollarized economy and location in the middle of the cocaine trail leading from South America to the United States make it an ideal money laundering spot for transnational drug traffickers and other criminal groups.

Drug trafficking groups like the Texis Cartel have until recently operated in the country with relative impunity, and Salvadoran police have said the money laundering structures of this group are a more important target than the drugs themselves.

The country already has an investigative money laundering unit attached to the Public Ministry, but the unit has been largely ineffective, with just four sentences handed down to money launderers between 2010 and 2013 — the lowest number in Central America, along with Costa Rica.

In this context, the creation of a financial crimes police unit could be an important step in combating money laundering. However, the unit will likely face an uphill battle, as to be successful it will have to target official corruption. The case of drug transporter Jorge Ulloa Sibrian, alias “Repollo,” captured in March, highlighted the ties between the state and drug traffickers in El Salvador and officials’ willingness to ignore these links.

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