Uruguay is investigating 20 police officers for the disappearance of some 200 firearms over the past two years, as evidence suggests the officers may have been involved in an arms trafficking ring that sold weapons to Brazilian criminal organizations.
The officers, including a former police chief, are suspected of involvement in the disappearance of more than 200 firearms from police headquarters in Treinta y Tres, an eastern province that shares a maritime border with Brazil, reported El Observador.
The investigation began in June, after Brazil’s Federal Police arrested a suspected drug trafficker carrying a firearm that was traced back to the Uruguayan police force. Treinta y Tres’ chief of police at the time, Tabare Gordiola, initially said that only eight weapons were unaccounted for in his department, but he has since been removed from his post and is now one of the officers under investigation.
The 200 missing weapons began disappearing in 2010. The firearms, mostly semi-automatic pistols and revolvers, could fetch up to five times their retail price on the black market, according to Uruguayan daily El Pais.
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Sources close to the investigation told El Pais that investigators believed the police were involved in an arms trafficking network that sold weapons to Brazilian criminal groups. Interestingly, because arms trafficking is not a distinct crime under Uruguayan law, the police would only be charged with “trafficking illicit contraband.”
The case may increase concerns over the presence of Brazilian organized criminal groups in Uruguay. While it is one of Latin America’s safest and least corrupt countries, Uruguay’s Interior Ministry recently expressed concern that Brazil’s security crackdown, coupled with relatively lax border control between the two countries, might lead Brazilian criminal groups to move to Uruguay in search of a safer area from which to operate. This is a phenomenon that has been seen in Paraguay, which Brazilian gangs use as a site of operations.
The investigation comes at a time when anti-drug officials in Uruguay and the United States are concerned about the South American country’s increasing importance to the regional drug trade, both as a consumer nation and as a transit point to the larger cocaine markets of Argentina and Brazil.