It will be up to Peru’s courts to decide whether police captain Juan Martín Chávez Briones is corrupt, but his recent social media activity won’t be doing his defense any favors.
Three days before being arrested with four other cops for allegedly attempting to resell 25 kilos of seized cocaine to Bolivian drug traffickers, Chávez posted a photograph of himself on his Facebook page sitting in an armchair surrounded by wads of what appear to be $100 bills.
The post is captioned “Small change for the weekend.”
Photo via Facebook
The captain was picked up earlier this week along with three junior officers and their boss, Commander Sandro Salinas, as they drove towards the Bolivian border across Puno, a remote Andean region notorious as a hub for drug trafficking and contraband. Salinas was Puno’s top anti-narcotics cop.
According to an official police statement, the officers had “snatched” the drugs from a local cartel and were heading towards the Bolivian border intending to sell it to drug traffickers when they were challenged by members of an elite police unit sent after them from Lima, the Peruvian capital. The statement said the officers effort to flee resulted in “an exchange of fire” in which another former officer, who was also traveling with the group, was injured and needed hospital treatment.
The swoop was prompted by surveillance of the officers’ cellphones carried out by Operation Constellation, a Peruvian program funded by the US Drug Enforcement Administration that allows local counter-narcotics detectives to listen in to up to 300 phone calls at a time.
The five officers are now being held for 15 days in the nearby city of Juliaca where they are being interrogated by prosecutors from Lima.
“We are now investigating all the possible background to this case including their activity on social media,” a police spokesman told VICE News in a phone interview, after the Facebook post began to cause a stir in local media.
The post had already generated a number of comments from the officer’s friends prior to his arrest with some jokingly suggesting the cash came from drug traffickers. One wrote that the money must have come from “a tony,” an apparent reference to Tony Montana, the lead character in the gangster movie Scarface.
After the captain’s arrest others claimed that the money was the fake currency that is often bandied around in a local festival on May 1. “People give away those paper bills,” read one comment, “you can clearly see that it is ordinary paper.”
Peru vies with Colombia as the world’s top producer of cocaine and drug money scandals regularly impact the police, military, courts and politics.
Former president Alan García’s current bid for a third term in April’s presidential elections is being undermined by allegations that during his 2006-2011 term he allowed hundreds of convicted cartel operatives to buy their freedom.
The head of García’s presidential pardons committee, Miguel Facundo Chinguel, is now behind bars awaiting a verdict in his trial for allegedly accepting bribes from prisoners. Prosecutors have ruled out questioning the former president but they have not fully explained why, and the rumbling scandal has tainted him politically.
Much of Peru’s cocaine passes through Bolivia on its way to overseas markets, including via light aircraft flying out of clandestine airstrips in remote, inaccessible valleys where the Andean foothills and Amazon rainforest overlap.
Last week, police arrested Peruvian army lieutenant Wilmer Edgardo Delgado Ruiz for allegedly allowing some of the trafficking. He is accused of charging $1,000 per flight to ensure that his men were not patrolling near the airstrips as the planes made their drug runs.