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committee links Cartes to smuggling, money laundering

Former President Horacio Cartes of Paraguay is the “head of a broad network of cigarette smuggling and alleged money laundering,” according to the final report published by the country’s Bilateral Investigation Committee on Money Laundering, which will formally enter Congress today.

Senator Jorge Querey, who serves as committee chief, said the task force’s work was based on documents from multiple local and foreign investigations mentioning the former president, ranging from local intelligence data to United Nations’ reports.

Mr. Cards have been under fire for months, particularly since the US blacklisted him in July for “significant” links to corruption and terrorism. The report mentions Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and Brazilian drug cartel PCC as two organizations potentially linked with the former president.

The Colorado Party leader, who ruled Paraguay between 2013 and 2018, is a tobacco industry tycoon, owning one of the country’s biggest cigar companies, Tabesa.

Tabesa, the committee argues, sold over 96 percent of its products inside Paraguay, but its total cigarette sales surpass the country’s consumption capacity, a fact that could be explained by contraband schemes.

Mr. Cartes was also linked to an Iranian plane stranded in Argentina, which made a prior stop on the Paraguayan side of the Brazil-Argentina-Paraguay triple border, loading Tabesa cargo. The US alleges that the plane is also linked to terrorist activities.

The report also recalls other Cartes-connected companies tied to crimes, including murder investigations.

After its publication, Mr. Cartes’ lawyer Pedro Ovel contrasted the report with a court ruling in Brazil, which investigated his client for some of these issues and ended up nullifying the case. Mr. Cards is not the only party leader facing pressure due to alleged crime links.

Vice President Hugo Velázquez, who sides opposed to Mr. Cartes’ faction, inside the Colorado Party ruling, had to step down from his presidential candidacy earlier this year after a different investigation also tied him to drug trafficking.

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