Argentina Property Theft Ring Indicates State Weakness

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The recovery of one million dollars of art stolen by property thieves from a deceased artist in Argentina provides one illustration of a blossoming regional crime facilitated by state weakness and corruption.

The 2,400 paintings were found hidden in a storehouse behind a false wall by police in Lomas de Zamora, in the state of Buenos Aires. They had been painted by and belonged to Nelia Licenziato, who died in 2006, reported Clarin. According to police, all of the artwork had been obtained fraudulently.

The find was part of an ongoing case, in which a criminal group dedicated to property theft is accused of stealing three of Licenziato’s properties and the paintings inside them. A well-known local real estate agent and a lawyer stand accused of involvement in the crimes and other similar cases, reported La Nacion.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Argentina

They allegedly belong to what La Nacion has referred to as a group of “VIP usurpers” — dismantled by Argentine authorities in May 2013 — that was dedicated to taking properties of deceased people by falsifying papers, including identity documents and wills.

A lawyer working on behalf of Licenziato’s cousins — the rightful heirs to her property — said, “We’re facing an organization dedicated to usurping properties through a sophisticated system of adulterating documentation.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The involvement of a prominent real estate agent and a lawyer indicates the group was well-connected. According to the US State Department, a culture of impunity, coupled with corruption and a lack of law enforcement, makes Argentina “ripe” for organized crime. This is also a perfect environment for property theft networks to flourish.

Property theft is a crime that has also affected other countries in the region. Most notable is Colombia, where there have been numerous cases of criminal groups illegally seizing land titles from peasants. It is also a growing problem in Guatemala, where at least 1,400 cases were recorded in 2013, and a criminal group linked to 1,000 reports of property theft was recently dismantled. 

The proliferation of crimes like this points to deep-seated corruption and a weak state. The Guatemalan ring operated with the help of corrupt public sector employees, while officials in Colombia have also been implicated in the crime. 

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