Ecuadorian authorities dismantled a criminal network linked to the laundering of narcotrafficking proceeds with the capture of its leader and five other people, including his partner and two brothers. Ecuador’s Attorney General Diana Salazar described the capture of Leandro Norero Tigua, alias El Patrón Norero, as one of the most important blows to organized crime, Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo reported.
The Office of the Attorney General’s Special Asset Laundering Unit, in coordination with the National Police,carried out 19 raids during the mega operation launched May 25 in the provinces of Manabí, Guayas, and Santa Elena and seized more than $6 million in cash, gold bars, jewelry, and firearms, among other items, the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement.
“They [Norero and his organization] moved about $10 million as laundered money; they moved about 4 to 5 tons of drugs monthly,” Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo told the press. “This organization is associated to many crimes that are interconnected, it’s not only narcotrafficking, money laundering, there is arms trafficking, there are many crimes.”
Norero, 35, financed the activities of the criminal gangs Los Lobos, Los Tiguerones, Los Lagartos, and Chone Killers, organizations identified as the armed wings of the Mexican cartel Jalisco New Generation, Ecuadorian newspaperPrimicias reported.
This case is significant for the country, not only because of the capture of the leader of one of the strongest criminal organizations in Ecuador, but also because of its connections and links with other corruption schemes under investigation, Fernando Villavicencio, president of the National Assembly’s Oversight Commission, said in an interview with Ecuadorian radio station FM Mundo. “That house, that mansion where Norero was captured was the first link with another structure, with the structure that plunged a large part of public hospitals into sinister corruption schemes […],” during the pandemic, such as with the sale of overpriced masks and body bags and the irregular purchase of COVID-19 tests, Villavicencio said.
Financing criminal gangs
According to Minister Carrillo, Norero has been operating since about 2005. He also left traces of his illicit activitiesabroad. In 2014, the Peruvian justice system initiated legal actions against Norero for narcotrafficking, but he faked his death during the COVID-19 pandemic and managed to have criminal proceedings against him dropped and Interpol arrest warrants lifted. Upon his return to Ecuador, he settled in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Guayaquil.
Norero was one of the trusted men of Jorge Luis Zambrano, alias Rasquiña, leader of the criminal gang Los Choneros, at the service of the Sinaloa cartel, who was murdered in December 2020. However, disputes with his successor arose and Norero began to finance rival gangs, including Los Lobos, Primiciasreported.
Police investigations link the armed and logistics power of Los Lobos to the economic growth of Norero, who is also believed to have financed bloody riots inside the country’s prisons and paid for the drones that dropped explosives on aprison in 2021.
Norero purchased front companies andused front men and illicit businessoperators to launder millions of dollars from narcotrafficking. He appears as the owner or shareholder of several companies involved in heavy transport, construction, advertising, food, agriculture, export, surveillance, and security services, among others.
Norero’s capture appears to be just the tip of the iceberg of a large corruption scheme that involves several criminal structures, illegal mining, arms trafficking, and many other crimes.