Recording Sparks Paraguay’s Latest Narco-Political Scandal

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Paraguay’s latest narco-political scandal has implicated a number of high-level government officials, but is unlikely to result in any meaningful change in a country where there appears to be deep penetration of drug trafficking into the political arena.  

On June 5, an audiotape of a November 2014 meeting between Ezequiel de Souza (a Brazilian drug trafficker), Luis Rojas (head of Paraguay’s anti-drug agency SENAD), and Senators Arnaldo Giuzzio and Arnoldo Wiens was made public. The meeting was held at SENAD’s headquarters with de Souza — currently awaiting trial following his 2012 arrest in Canindeyu department with over 1,700 kilos of cocaine — after he expressed fear for his life and said he had information on a bribery network involving lawyers, police, and politicians, reported La Nacion.

During the interview — which was secretly recorded by Giuzzio — de Souza claimed he gave monthly payments of “around 160,000” to various government officials. According to the AP, while the type of currency was not specified, Giuzzio has said it was US dollars.

De Souza also claimed he paid 60,000 to Javier Ibarra — currently the Vice Minister of Security — when he was second-in-command to Francisco de Vargas — the current Minister of the Interior. “Everyone got paid: police, public prosecutors, judges, military,” de Souza said on the tape, “I don’t remember one prosecutor who hasn’t been paid off.”

Other politicians de Souza mentions by name are: Cristina Villalba, a Congresswoman from Canindeyu department and member of the ruling Colorado Party; her brother Carlos Villalba; prosecutor Diosnel Gimenez; and Pompeyo Lugo, the brother of former President Fernando Lugo.

What happened to the tape following the November 2014 interview is in dispute. Yet it ultimately ended up in the hands of Carlos Ruben Sanchez, alias “Chicharõ,” a Paraguayan politician with drug links who was recently arrested on money laundering charges. It was Chicharõ’s lawyer who released the tape to the press.

InSight Crime Analysis

The release of the Ezequiel de Souza audiotape is just the latest in a series of narco-political scandals in Paraguay.

In May, two-time Congressman Magdaleno Silva, who had been nicknamed “the representative of drug traffickers in Congress,” was shot and killed. In 2014, three congressmen were accused of links to Brazilian drug traffickers. Current President Horacio Cartes has also been accused of drug trafficking ties and money laundering in the past, and in 2013 his uncle was imprisoned in Uruguay on drug trafficking charges.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay

Brazil may also soon extradite former Colorado Party politician Vilmar “Neneco” Acosta to face charges for the 2014 murder of journalist Pablo Medina, who was killed for his coverage of drug trafficking — an event that brought heightened attention to the influence of drug traffickers on Paraguayan institutions.

Yet widespread corruption in Paraguay and its weak judicial system — have assured an inability to effectively investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable those implicated in drug trafficking — There is little reason to think that this latest scandal will be handled any differently.

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