Seizure Highlights Guatemala’s Poor Record in Cash Smuggling

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Authorities in Guatemala have almost doubled annual drug-related cash seizures by recovering $1.4 million from a car travelling in the south of the country, in a case highlighting the low level of illicit profits captured in the country.

Anti-drugs officers and public ministry investigators made the seizure after stopping a car travelling near Sumpango, around 10 miles west of the capital Guatemala City. The money was bundled into more than 80 packets in a secret compartment in the car and has been linked to drug trafficking, reported elPeriodico.

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The operation took the total amount of drug money seizures this year up to $3 million, reported Prensa LibreAuthorities made one arrest — the driver of the car — reported Siglo 21.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the seizure of $1.4 million represents a coup for anti-drugs efforts, given its proportion of the total money seized this year, it raises the question of whether Guatemalan authorities are achieving enough in their battle against the financial side of the drug trade.

InSight Crime sources estimate so-called “transportistas” — hauliers who move drugs through their areas of influence — earn between $600 million and $800 million in Guatemala each year. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has previously estimated more than 200 tons of cocaine passes through Central America each year — much of it through Guatemala — which is worth an estimated $6 billion to drug trafficking organizations.

Where this money ends up is a difficult question to answer. Undoubtedly much of it is laundered through financial transactions, although according to the US State Department, Guatemala is “not a regional financial center” like other countries in the region, such as Panama and some Caribbean islands. However, a significant proportion likely finds its way into country in the form of the type of bulk cash smuggling seen in Sumpango, which, according to US authorities, is an increasingly popular method as a result of tighter financial regulations and actions targeting money laundering. 

It is impossible to know exactly how much money is moved by each method, but given the profits on offer from the drug trade, it is clear $3 million is a tiny fraction of the cash smuggled in Guatemala.

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