LatAm Drug Groups Entering ‘Second Stage’ in Middle East: NGO

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Organized criminal groups from Latin America are becoming increasingly entrenched in both the Middle East and Asia, a trend which has developed as their presence has grown in Africa, according to a prominent security analyst.

Speaking to United Arab Emirates (UAE) newspaper Khaleej Times, Johan Obdola — president of the non-governmental organization the International Organization for Security and Intelligence — said criminal groups from countries including Colombia and Mexico had now entered “their second stage of their operations” in the Middle East. He said they were attempting to use the UAE as a drug trafficking and money laundering hub.

According to Obdola, these groups have built up their presence as they have become more entrenched in Africa, which has acted as a platform for them to expand into the emerging markets of the Middle East and Asia. Obdola said the zero income tax policy in the region made it particularly attractive for money laundering.

Obdola’s statements were supported by Lieutenant-General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, Deputy Chairman of Police and Security in Dubai, who told Khaleej Times 75 percent of drug seizures at Dubai airports were linked to cocaine or heroin originating in Latin America. He also noted a growth in money laundering, which he said was linked to international drug smuggling.

Khalfan added that Latin American drug traffickers often employed Africans or Asians, especially women, to act as mules.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is the latest report of heightened activity from Latin American organized crime in the Middle East, after Obdola himself called for a regional plan to combat the threat during a September 2013 security convention in Qatar.

There have not yet been any reports of a significant Latin American organized crime cell dismantled in the region, but during that summit Obdola suggested there was a Mexican criminal group established in Qatar. A recent drug smuggling attempt detected by Dubai authorities, meanwhile, involved African, Asian and Latin American operatives.

While there has been concern over the connections between some Latin American illegal armed groups with Middle East terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Al Qaeda — who have allegedly simultaneously expanded their presence in Latin America — thus far the connections appear to be limited to business.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration

The suggestion that the Latin American criminal presence in the Middle East has grown as such groups have become more established in Africa is feasible. This migration into West Africa has been noted as atomization and stiff competition for profits has pushed criminal groups to seek new markets, drug supply routes and revenue streams.

While penalties for drug offenses in the Middle East remain extremely harsh, the burgeoning and affluent expat community in places like Dubai — where a kilo of cocaine is estimated to sell for $90,000 — could provide a highly lucrative market. This is almost twice the price in Europe and around three times what it would fetch in the United States.

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