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More than two years after signing a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Colombian government continues to uncover hidden illicit wealth belonging to the demobilized narcoterror group. This lack of compliance by the FARC severely undermines Colombia’s peace process and reveals ongoing challenges as authorities work to dismantle the financial networks of transnational criminal groups.
Under the accord, FARC leaders committed to turn over all of their assets, accumulated from decades of involvement in drug trafficking, kidnapping, and other illicit activities, to compensate the over 8.6 million victims of the conflict. However, since the signing of the peace accord, Colombia’s Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez has identified and seized over $767 million in hidden FARC assets that the group failed to surrender. These efforts are crucial to ensuring the integrity of the peace accord and combating the infiltration of the financial system.
In 2017, the FARC turned over what was supposed to be an exhaustive list of its assets, which it claimed totaled $324 million and featured items like used boots, kitchen appliances, and approximately $1 million dollars in cash. Colombian authorities rightfully criticized the FARC for hiding the group’s full wealth, which the government has estimated to be over $10 billion.
In February 2018, the government seized over $226 million in hidden assets belonging to the FARC, including bank deposits and a chain of supermarkets that were part of an elaborate money laundering operation. In April 2019, Attorney General Martínez uncovered another cache of FARC assets, including 16 real estate properties and three businesses worth $6.4 million. The assets are linked to Bernardo Mosquera Machado, a FARC commander who signed onto the peace process and led the FARC’s 42nd Front for nearly 14 years.
By hiding ill-gotten assets, FARC leaders continue to deny resources needed to finance the implementation of the peace accord at a time when the government is struggling to support over 1.2 million Venezuelan refugees who have resettled in the country. The decision to hide these assets also drains the vital investigatory resources of the government needed to go after resurgent criminal groups like the ELN and the Clan del Golfo.
Despite the diligent work of Colombia’s attorney general, there may be much more illicit wealth that is beyond his reach. Most of the assets his office identified are located in Colombia, but just before the peace negotiations, the government estimated that as much as 70% of the FARC’s assets were held abroad. Other transnational criminal groups also maintain global networks to move and hide their wealth, which are vital to their ability to operate.
The hidden wealth of the hemisphere’s transnational criminal organizations presents a direct threat to regional prosperity and stability. US officials at the Treasury Department and Department of Justice must work closely with counterparts in the region to find and seize these illicit assets and dismantle the international networks that sustain transnational criminal organizations.
Andrés Martínez-Fernández is a Research Analyst working in Latin American Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He has previous experience as a consultant and is completing his graduate degree in Latin American Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
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