A network of hired assassins led by three Colombians has been dismantled in Spain in what authorities called the biggest operation to be carried out against a “collections office” in that country.

6956c787ef5259e79426818930533811_XLAs part of an operation that began nine months earlier, Spanish police broke up a network of “sicarios,” or hired assassins, dedicated to collecting drug trafficking related debts. Those arrested included 15 Colombians and one Spaniard.

The system the network used to settle debts was the “amarre” (tying up), or kidnapping, of the victim until they or a family member paid the amount owed, reported EFE. The group also extorted the victims, threatening to take action if they did not pay, including the kidnapping or murder of relatives of the victims who were often in Colombia.

According to authorities, the killers usually worked by assignment, and charged the person who contracted them 50 percent of the money collected, although they also sometimes worked for themselves.

The dismantled “collections office” or what is known in Colombian underworld lingo as a “oficina de cobro” — a localized organization that controls debt collection and extortion and carries out assassinations — was headed by men Spanish authorities called the Upegui brothers. In addition to performing kidnappings and extortion, the network was also involved in drug trafficking and, apparently, money laundering, according to Europa Press.

Although Spanish authorities say this has been the biggest operation carried out against an “oficina de cobro” in that country, it is not the first time that an organization of this type has been dismantled in Spain, nor is it the first time that selective homicides related to drug trafficking debts have been committed. In March 2012, a network known as “Los Señores del Acido” (The Lords of Acid) was broken up, which worked as an assassin network in Madrid for the Colombian criminal group the Rastrojos.

However, what is new in this case is that, unlike other Colombian organizations taken down in Spain, the Upegui brothers’ network did not appear to work for any one organization in particular.This could be due to the growing fragmentation of criminal groups, which has allowed small criminal organizations to gain more autonomy and become involved in more of their own criminal activities.

Source: Insight Crime