‘Mislabeled’ Meth Chemicals Smuggled into El Salvador

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Smugglers in El Salvador are importing chemicals used to produce methamphetamine under different names, and using shell companies, posing a challenge to customs and law enforcement officials.

On October 5, Salvadoran officials raided a warehouse registered to a fake company in Ciudad Merliot and seized 17 barrels of ethyl phenylacetate, a chemical used in the production of methamphetamine. La Prensa Grafica reports that the barrels had been part of a larger shipment which entered the country in October 2010 and were falsely identified as methyl salicylate, a compound commonly used to make ointments. The rest of the shipment, some 40 barrels, had already been sent to Guatemala by the time of the raid.

Chief counternarcotics investigator Jorge Cortez told the paper that by disguising the true contents of the barrels, smugglers were able to pass the cargo off as legal and avoid official scrutiny. Normally, shipments of ethyl phenylacetate and other meth precursors are subject to strict controls and regulation.

Prensa Grafica reported that, according to police, smugglers have been “mislabeling” chemical compounds in order to sneak meth precursors into the country for years, and there is little they can do to monitor it. An uptick in shipments of salicylic acid into the country from 2010 to 2011 (from 301 to 52,140 kilos) may have been due to precursor chemicals being mislabled as this product.

InSight Crime Analysis

El Salvador and neighboring Guatemala have struggled to improve security on their maritime borders, but corruption and a lack of resources make this extremely difficult.

Drug trafficking networks have taken advantage of this, moving massive quantities of meth precursors into both countries and setting up “import/export companies” to serve as cover.

The demand for precursors has grown particularly sharply in Guatemala, where groups like Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel are increasingly operating large-scale meth producing facilities. Much of this has to do with a crackdown on meth production and access to precursors in Mexico, which has caused groups to shift south.

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