The Paraguayan National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD) and international European institutions have made headway with Operation North Atlantic, which seeks to dismantle a criminal group that sent cocaine via containers to the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Spain. According to Paraguayan newspaper ABC Color, Diego Benítez Cañete, the former sports manager of the Olimpia Club in the city of Asunción, who is currently on the run, is the alleged leader of the criminal network.
The operation, launched in early 2021, led to the record seizure that year in February of more than 16 tons of cocaine hidden in paint cans in the port of Hamburg, Germany. Benítez Cañete had also sent some 7 tons of cocaine to Europe in three shipments prior to the German bust, ABC Color reported.
“It is a very satisfactory operation at a global level against these criminal organizations and in which Paraguay also participated actively,” SENAD Minister Zully Rolón told Paraguay’s 780 AM radio.
On April 23, 2022, SENAD agents raided four neighboring rural establishments in the Filadelfia area of Paraguay’s Chaco region, which are allegedly linked to the drug trafficking network. Authorities carried out a raid at Estancia Choguy, which has a 1,200 meter runway with a lighting system for night operations, two hangars, and artificial lakes.
Another property, the La Paz rest stop and service station, caught the attention of the anti-drug agents because of its infrastructure. “The evidence suggests that it is a firm established as part of the money laundering from drug trafficking,” SENAD said. Together, the properties total some 7,300 hectares, the institution added.
In Europe, agents carried out simultaneous operations. “In Germany there were 35 raids and 11 arrests, in addition to one arrest in Spain, three arrests in Holland, and five arrests in Belgium,” SENAD said. In Belgium and Holland, 4 million euros were also seized, the anti-drug agency reported.
A fugitive since March 2021, Benítez Cañete left the country for São Paulo, Brazil, but authorities believe that his final destination was Dubai, ABC Color reported, adding that the man has been charged with international drug trafficking and has a warrant for his arrest.
In coordination with Germany’s Judicial Customs Police and other European security agencies, SENAD sought to reconstruct the financial structures of the scheme. “The money trail is important for us because it leads us to disrupt structures not only of those involved in the purchase and subsequent shipment [of drugs], but to disrupt logistical structures,” Rolón told Paraguay’s ABC TV.
Curbing transnational criminal organizations
Paraguay has become a crucial link in the transnational cocaine supply chain between South America and Europe and Africa, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an international investigative journalism organization that specializes in organized crime, said in a March 2022 report.
However, Paraguayan authorities are dedicated to curbing the actions of transnational criminal organizations, carrying out large-scale operations such as Operation North Atlantic and Operation A Ultranza PY. The latter, which began in February 2022, was dubbed SENAD’s largest operation against organized crime, with the support of international institutions such as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Europol.
In early March, when welcoming the new U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Marc Ostfield, Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez highlighted the close ties of friendship between both countries, as well as the need to continue strengthening international cooperation in the fight against transnational organized crime. “Our history with the United States is marked by the democratic principles we share. We are confident that, with your collaboration, we will continue on that path,” Benítez said on the occasion.