A new investigation alleges that one of the most influential evangelical pastors in Guatemala took money from a high-profile drug trafficker, underscoring how the church acts as a powerbroker in the Central American nation.
Carlos Enrique Luna, better known as Cash Luna, the founder and lead pastor of the Casa de Dios evangelical church — one of the largest megachurches in Latin America — allegedly received money from convicted Guatemalan drug trafficker Marllory Chacón Rossell, alias “Queen of the South,” to in part help construct a multimillion-dollar church complex, according to a recent investigation published December 3 by Univision.
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) sanctioned Chacón in January 2012 and called her “one of the most prolific narcotics traffickers in Central America.”
Around 2010, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) infiltrated Chacón’s criminal organization using Colombian pilot Jorge Mauricio Herrera, who transported cocaine into Guatemala for Chacón on behalf of a Colombian cartel, according to Univision. Herrera was reportedly present at various meetings where Chacón and Luna discussed money transfers. Another person close to Chacón told Univision they personally delivered cash to Luna, who “constantly asked” her for money.
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Luna was allegedly Chacón’s “right-hand man.” The pastor knew, according to Herrera, that she was a drug trafficker and that the money he was receiving came from the drug trade. Chacón turned herself in to US authorities in 2014 and later pleaded guilty to drug charges in 2015.
Some 12,000 parishioners listen to Luna’s weekly sermons at his church in Guatemala City, which is reportedly worth some $45 million. The church is the largest of its kind in Latin America. It was inaugurated in 2013 by former President Otto Pérez Molina, who is now in jail along with his former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, on corruption charges.
A spokeswoman for Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office confirmed that authorities have opened an investigation into Luna and his alleged links to Chacón. It’s unclear which unit will investigate Luna, but it will most likely be a money-laundering inquiry.
Chacón’s lawyer denied that she ever laundered money with Luna or his church. Luna and Casa de Dios also rejected the accusations. Luna said that he is “respectful of the law,” adding that he has “always complied with the regulations and obligations to which I am subject.”
InSight Crime Analysis
The alleged links between one of Guatemala’s most prominent pastors and one of the country’s most notorious drug traffickers shows just how much power the evangelical church in the country holds. But the church also plays a significant role as a powerbroker in another sector of society: politics.
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Guatemala President Jimmy Morales is himself an evangelical Christian, and Luna’s Casa de Dios was at the center of support for his successful 2015 presidential run. The two also reportedly sat down for an exclusive meeting during his campaign. Morales is currently under investigation for alleged illicit campaign financing during his bid for the presidency.
But Morales isn’t the only politician with dubious links to Casa de Dios and Luna. Authorities uncovered that Baldetti — who is currently serving 15 years in jail on corruption charges for her role in a multimillion-dollar fraud case, and who was also indicted by US authorities on cocaine trafficking charges — spent more than $50,000 of the state’s money in 2013 to donate a massive Guatemalan flag to the Casa de Dios church.