Authorities in Nicaragua have arrested 18 suspected drug traffickers posing as Mexican journalists and allegedly carrying $9.2 million in cash. One of the suspects has ties to a Mexican gang linked to La Familia Michoacana and the Sinaloa cartel, according to published reports. The 18 pretended they were on their way to Managua to cover a high-profile criminal trial of a man charged with money laundering and facilitating drug shipments.
The suspects, 17 of whom are Mexican nationals, were not, as they claimed, journalists for Televisa, authorities said — but rather cash smugglers who may have been working for a drug trafficking organization themselves. They entered Nicaragua from Honduras on Aug. 22, according to published reports, with forged press credentials. The group traveled in six vans, which bore the Televisa logo; so did their shirts and vests.
The night before they entered Nicaragua, the suspects stayed in a Honduran hotel. A former officer with one of Nicaragua’s security services overheard a conversation among the suspects which he found suspicious, said Fernando Borge, a spokesman for the Nicaraguan National Police. He said that officer alerted authorities in Nicaragua. Police stopped the group when it entered the country, searched the vans they were traveling in and seized $9.2 million in cash.
The suspects had allegedly conspired to use the money to buy large quantities of drugs, Borge said. “They were planning to take all the money to Costa Rica to pay for a load,” he said. The bills were tested and traces of cocaine were found on them, Borge said.
One of the suspects is Manuel de Jesus Herrera Pineda, Proceso reported. He allegedly has ties to Los Charros, a gang which smuggles drugs and other illicit items north from Costa Rica into Nicaragua and Mexico. The gang is also allegedly involved in human trafficking, the newspaper reported. Los Charros has links to La Familia Michoacana and the Sinaloa cartel, which is led by fugitive drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, according to insightcrime.org.
The group of fake journalists was led by a woman identified as Raquel Alatorre Correa, 40. She claimed to be a news anchor for Televisa, authorities said. The suspects said they were heading to Managua to cover the criminal trial of Henry Fariñas. a Nicaraguan businessman who owns nightclubs and also promotes musical acts.
In July 2011, popular Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral walked out of a hotel in Guatemala City and stepped into a white Range Rover that Fariñas was driving. Two men who worked as bodyguards for Fariñas followed behind them in a Chevy Tahoe. They headed toward the airport.
About a kilometer from the airport, a Hyundai pulled up next to the Range Rover, according to reports. Two men fired from the Hyundai into the driver’s side of the Range Rover, killing Cabral. Fariñas was critically wounded but survived. While he spent months in a Guatemalan hospital, recovering from his wounds, Nicaraguan authorities built a case against him.
When Fariñas returned to Managua in March 2012, he was arrested and charged with money laundering and drug trafficking. Meanwhile, the men allegedly involved in that attack have been arrested by Guatemalan authorities.