The killing in Argentina of a police officer who spoke out against corruption in the force appears to be the latest in a list of deadly cover-ups orchestrated by dirty officials, and serves as a reminder of longstanding police collusion with organized crime.
The body of local police officer Pablo Cejas was found with 20 wounds from bullets of different calibers in the capital city of Santa Fé province on July 17, reported Clarín. The officer had garnered media attention in 2015 after an earlier attempt on his life and accusations of criminal collusions against his colleagues.
“I will never ‘compromise’ with drug trafficking and that is why they shot me,” Cejas stated at the time, according to Infobae.
Cejas also said that officers were ordered not to conduct operations against certain suspected criminals.
“There are [drug distribution points] that the police can’t raid. We have orders to not meddle with the drug traffickers,” he stated.
Since then, Cejas had received further death threats and his family had suffered several attacks. He was under a protection program that involved periodic check-ins, but not constant surveillance.
Provincial authorities have downplayed the notion that Cejas’ death was related to his whistleblowing. Santa Fé Security Minister Maximiliano Pullaro said this was not the strongest hypothesis, while another official posited that personal motives could be behind the murder, according to El Litoral.
Meanwhile, prosecutor Jorge Nessier said that links were not yet established between Cejas’ accusations and his killing, but that the murder did not appear to be related to a robbery, given that personal belongings were not stolen, according to another El Litoral article.
InSight Crime Analysis
The account of a witness who heard Cejas plead for his life as well as the sheer number of bullet wounds strongly suggest an execution-style killing, though the murder’s motive remain unconfirmed at this early stage of the investigation. Still, given the circumstances, Cejas is likely a victim of police covering up their criminal tracks. And judging by Argentina’s history of weak and seriously flawed investigations into similar incidents, at times portrayed as suicides, his murder may well go unpunished.
Argentina’s security forces have a long history of criminal collusion. Cejas’ allegations were reminiscent of other accounts of police officers “liberating” areas, meaning temporarily clearing an area for criminals to step in. As noted by ProPublica, the term originates from the era of the brutal military dictatorship that ruled the country in the 1970s and 1980s, during which colluding officers would clear an area for death squads to carry out executions.
This history, along with the fact that Santa Fé’s former provincial police chief was sentenced to six years in prison in October 2015 for working with drug traffickers, lends weight to Cejas’ accusations.
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Cejas’ case is not an isolated incident. In 2013, for instance, the federal police’s anti-narcotic chief suffered a botched attempt on his life. The officer’s first theory was that corrupt police disgruntled with his work ordered the hit.
Unfortunately, suspected attempts at covering up officials’ criminal collusion are rarely resolved. A symbolic example is the death in January 2015 of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor investigating a possible government cover-up related to the bloody 1994 terrorist attack against a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires. Two and a half years later, Nisman’s case — which has since seen a key witness murdered in a supposed robbery during which nothing was stolen — has yet to be declared a homicide, despite overwhelming evidence and concurring analyses from police and judiciary officials.