Colombian officials have seized 11 tons of contraband meat near the border with Venezuela, which authorities have linked to the money laundering operations of guerrillas and other drug trafficking organizations.
Colombia’s National Directorate of Taxes and Customs (DIAN) discovered a truck packed with meat from an estimated 600 cows in the city of Cucuta in Norte de Santander.
Authorities believe the trade in contraband beef in the region is linked to the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the drug trafficking neo-paramilitary groups the Urabeños and the Rastrojos. The groups allegedly use the meat trade to launder money and generate revenues to purchase coca, reported Caracol Radio.
DIAN director Juan Ricardo Ortega said that the trade takes advantage of the black market in Venezuelan bolivares, which trades in at just over six to the dollar according to the government’s official exchange rate, but can be bought unofficially at 29 to the dollar in the underground economy. The groups purchase the meat in Venezuela at black market prices then sell it on in Colombia, Ortega said.
Venezuelan border region Norte de Santander is a coca growing zone and trafficking hub that is home to the FARC, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the narco-paramilitary groups known as the BACRIM (“bandas criminales,” or criminal bands).
It is a common money laundering practice for such groups to invest drug profits in contraband purchased outside of Colombia, typically involving cigarettes, alcohol, and domestic appliances. The goods are then smuggled into Colombia and sold on at discount prices.
The Venezuelan border region is an attractive location for such activities, as the manipulation of the black market in bolivares increases the profits to be made.