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| 5/17/2011 9:00:00 AM

Colombian drug traffickers in Argentina

Colombian traffickers have turned Argentina into an important route to transport cocaine into Europe, and also as a place of refuge, money laundering and investment.

With the arrest last week, at the Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, of a Colombian that according to authorities would have perfected the art of submarines to export drugs, it is confirmed that national drug traffickers came to Argentina to settle and move drugs in big amounts. Several have been detected in Puerto Madero, the fashionable business district in the capital.

The newest character is named Ignacio Álvarez Meyendorff, who was arrested on April 24 in Ezeiza, when he was arriving from Tahiti. The man, 50, was under the watch of the Research Unit of Money Laundering, among others, by a cash deposit of $700,000 in Banco Rio. He was arrested by order of Attorney Bonnie Klapper, from New York, and is accused of sending large amounts of cocaine from Colombia to Central America, Mexico and the United States. According to Miguel Robles, Complex Crimes undersecretary of the Ministry of Security of Argentina, “it is believed that he was in charge of logistics for the submarines and that he perfected that system”. Álvarez had entered and left dozens of times in Argentina, where he founded four companies.

Meyendorff is the latest in a long list of Colombians associated to killings, hooligans and Mexican cartels that have found in Argentina a perfect place for smuggling, money laundering, investing and having fun.

A year earlier another Colombian was extradited from the southern country. Luis Agustin Caicedo Velandia, “Don Lucho”, was captured while walking through the mall Alto Palermo with a Guatemalan passport. The director of the DIJIN in that moment, General Luis Gilberto Ramirez, described him as the head of the richest trafficking organization in 15 years. It is believed that once in the hands of United States’ justice, “Don Lucho” betrayed Álvarez Meyendorff.

In December 2009, a 21 year old Argentinean model was arrested when shipped to Cancun with two suitcases containing 55 kilos of cocaine. The girl reported a net that sent 'mules' from Argentina to Mexico, led by 'the Monster', a Mexican drug trafficker, and his girlfriend, Angie Sanclemente Valencia, former Colombian National Coffee’s beauty queen. Six months later, Sanclemente was arrested at a hotel in the Palermo district, and faces a maximum sentence of 16 years.

In January, two sons of the Argentinean Air Force chief during the government of Carlos Menem were arrested in Spain with 994 kilos of cocaine, in a private plane. The drug was from the same organization that would be linked with Alvarez Caicedo Meyendorff and Velandia, and it came from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. Gustavo Carabajal, a reporter from La Nacion, one of the two major Argentinean newspapers, told SEMANA that, to the Bolivian authorities, Argentina is the place where laboratories for producing cocaine hydrochloride are being concentrated . “You hear Colombian music in supermarkets”, he says. The owner of the cocaine from the children of the military would be Guillermo Giraldo, a Colombian nicknamed “Memo”. According to Raul Kollman, from the newspaper Página 12, another Colombian involved with them, John Wilson Velez, is said to be the supplier of the cocaine that former Colombian National Coffee’s beauty queen and her boyfriend sent to Cancun.

One of the first incident that sparked alarms in the Argentinean authorities was a hire murder that shook that country on July 24, 2008. Colombians Jorge Quinteros Gartner and Hector Duque Ceballos, “Monoteto”, were shot by two gunmen on a motorcycle in the parking lot of the most important mall of Buenos Aires. “Monoteto” had been a man of confidence of “Macaco”, a paramilitary leader extradited to the United States. A member of the Boca Juniors hooligans was accused of the murder.

In February 2009, two Colombians, Jorge González Ramírez and his brother in law, Juan Sebastian Galvis, were attacked by two gunmen on a motorcycle in San Fernando, north of Buenos Aires, when buying a half a million dollars yacht. Galvis died and there is no information about González, who survived.

Several of these Colombians have chosen to settle in Puerto Madero, the modern business district of Buenos Aires preferred by TV stars, politicians and businessmen. Alvarez Meyendorff lived in an apartment on the street Vera Peñaloza 450, for which he paid $ 2,200 monthly. The owner of a kiosk told SEMANA that he knew him, but he has not lived there in a long time. He also said that many Colombians, Mexicans and Venezuelans live in the area. González Ramírez hired an apartment in August 2008, on the 37th floor of the tower complex, Le Parc, for which he paid $ 5,000 per month. The two Colombians killed in the mall also had an apartment in Puerto Madero.

Apparently, the Colombian drug traffickers are solidly installed. “Argentina is being established as a clear strategic point for drug trafficking. In addition to the known cases, there are many others”, said to SEMANA Mariano Borinsky, head of the Prosecutor Unit for Tax Crimes and Smuggling. Argentina seized 12 tons of cocaine in 2010 and is calculated that another 70 were sent from there to Europe, according to a recent U.S. report. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which oversees money laundering, presented a critical report on Argentina.

In 2009, a senior security official in the province of Buenos Aires told journalist Gustavo Carabajal: "If I were your boss, I would send you to Colombia to take a rapid course on drug cartels, because the names that appear there as chiefs will be repeated in Argentina in no more than two years". Today nobody doubts that he was right.
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