Guatemalan authorities have seized a series of lavish mansions belonging to a captured drug lord, taking advantage of a law allowing the government to use criminal assets to further fight crime.
Five properties belonging to Mario Ponce Rodriguez, sentenced last year in the US to 25 years in jail for drug trafficking, were taken over after Guatemalan prosecutors determined they were his.
One of the properties has land measuring some 28 million square meters, reported Prensa Libre, and includes a gas station and a landing strip. Four of the houses have an average area of 38 million square meters and include elaborate architecture, fittings and gardens.
Around $3.3 million in cash was also seized from bank accounts belonging to Ponce, his wife and his sister-in-law.
InSight Crime Analysis
Guatemala passed a law in 2010 allowed the government to seize assets from criminals and use the proceeds to pay for police training and equipment, witness protection programs and the wider fight against crime. A Unit of Asset Seizures was set up in 2011 and a large farm belonging to alleged drug trafficker Raymundo Fernando Rodriguez Pacay became the first property confiscated under the new legislation in January 2013.
Otto Perez has taken a tough approach to drug trafficking, after coming into office in 2012 on a promise to fight crime with an iron fist. He quickly approved two new military bases in the country and worked on getting US military aid reinstated following a 22-year ban. He has won increasing respect from the US as a serious player in the fight against organized crime, despite also spearheading calls by Latin American leaders for a debate on drug legalization. The US has increased its foreign military financing going to Guatemala from $500,000 in 2012 to $1.74 million in its 2014 State Department aid budget.