Top Argentine Official Accused of Heading Precursor Chemical Trafficking Network

August 6, 2015

As Venezuela gears up for a key congressional election, sometime it’s hard to know if the campaign is taking place amid chaos — or if chaos is part of the campaign strategy.

As polls indicate the embattled opposition could see its strongest showing in decades in the Dec. 6 race, the government has taken measures that have ranged from ruthlessly effective to ham-fisted.
Allegations that a prominent Argentine politician played a top role in an ephedrine trafficking ring raises the possibility that the drug trade has co-opted Argentina’s most powerful elites.

On August 2, the Argentine news program “Periodismo Para Todos” (Journalism for Everyone) broadcast an investigation into a case known as the “Triple Crime” — which occured in 2008 and involved the murder of three businessman in the pharmaceutical industry: Sebastian Forza, Leopoldo Bina, and Damian Ferron.

As part of the program, host Jorge Lanata interviewed Martin Lanatta, one of four people convicted of the crime and currently serving a life prison sentence (see video below).

Lanatta accused Anibal Fernandez — a member of Argentina’s Justicialist Party and current Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers — of being the “intellectual author” of the murders. According to Lanatta, Fernandez — in collaboration with agents from Argentina’s Secretariat of Intelligence (SIDE) — ordered the killings. The murders were meant to consolidate control over the ephedrine trafficking trade — a precursor chemical for producing methamphetamine and other designer drugs — and strengthen ties with Mexican cartels, Lanatta said.

Jose Luis Salerno, a former police officer and business associate of Damian Ferron, also accused Fernandez of leading an ephedrine trafficking network with links to Mexican cartels (see video below).

This is the second time Fernandez has been implicated in the Triple Crime, with Congresswoman Graciela Ocaña linking him in 2013.

Fernandez has forcefully denied these most recent allegations, saying he does not knowand never had any dealings with Lanatta.

InSight Crime Analysis

In recent years, Argentina has become an increasingly important hub for Latin America’s drug trade, with lax regulations turning it into a major transit hub for precursor chemicals used in drug production. Evidence suggests these chemicals are trafficked to Mexican cartels, such as the Sinaloa Cartel, which has reportedly set up operations in Argentina.

The growing presence of transnational drug networks in Argentina has led to increased concerns over official involvement in drug trafficking.

Indeed — while previous scandals involving the illicit importation of precursor chemicals have involved high-level government officials — these allegations will fuel speculationthat the country’s top political elites have been co-opted by the drug trade.

Nonetheless, Lanatta’s allegations must be approached cautiously as — condemned to spend his life behind bars — he has little to lose by making spurious accusations. Indeed, it is unclear why Lanatta decided to implicate Fernandez now and not during his trial. Fernandez has also accused the opposition of political machinations ahead of October elections.

Top Argentine Official Accused of Heading Precursor Chemical Trafficking Network