Authorities in Colombia have begun to seize assets linked to a fraud ring that embezzled over $1 billion from tax authorities, shining a light on the major criminal revenues generated by white collar financial crimes.
Prosecutors have been tracking bank accounts, tax returns and properties of 59 people who have so far been implicated in a case that saw fraudsters set up false companies and forge export invoices in order to claim sales tax returns, reported El Espectador. The embezzlement is estimated to have cost Colombia’s tax office (DIAN) around $1.5 billion.
The first seizures have focused on four of the 13 people already convicted for the crime, among them Sandra Liliana Rojas — a key associate of ring leader Blahca Jazmin Becerra, who was sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2012 — and three DIAN officials.
From Becerra alone, authorities have already seized 15 properties, including three offices and 12 parking lots. The Prosecutor General’s Office has begun targeting properties around the country for further seizures, including residences, warehouses and even a limestone mine, worth over $25 million, while prosecutors continue working to trace funds to more assets both in and outside of Colombia.
Proceedings against other alleged members of the ring, including high ranking DIAN officials and the legal representatives of companies that received the tax rebates, are ongoing.
While the violence and drama associated with drug trafficking grabs all the headlines, as this case shows, low key financial crime can be just as lucrative and can also cost the state billions in lost revenues.
In Colombia, such fraud is far from uncommon, and there have been numerous cases of white collar criminals defrauding state institutions and even their own employees.
As shown by the ring set up by Becerra, for these networks to be successful they rely not only on knowledge of how to manipulate financial systems but also on corruption — fraud on such a massive scale would almost certainly not have gone unnoticed for so long if it had not been facilitated and covered up by insiders from the tax office.