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Peru police detain 18 in arms trafficking crackdown on US, Turkish imports: report

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Hundreds of Peruvian police officers carried out a series of property raids across the country on Wednesday, detaining 18 people as part of an investigation into illegal arms trafficking from the US and Turkey and its potential connection to the murder of an Ecuadorian presidential candidate last year, Reuters reported.

Jorge Chavez, who heads the Peruvian prosecutor’s office against organized crime, said the operation targeted companies that allegedly imported weapons, mainly from the US and Turkey, and later paid low-income individuals to acquire licenses and purchase the guns.

Some 700 officers raided houses and offices in four districts of Lima and in the Tumbes, Cajamarca and Piura regions on Peru’s border with Ecuador as part of the operation that was carried out with support from the US Embassy.

According to Chavez, the weapons later ended up in the hands of criminal gangs, including those responsible for the murder of Ecuadorean presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio.

Chavez’s office has intelligence that “one of the weapons that came from these companies was likely used in the assassination of the former presidential candidate,” he said in remarks shared on America Television.

Villavicencio, a vocal critic of corruption and organized crime, was murdered in August following a campaign rally in Quito, just 11 days before the country’s presidential election.

In Wednesday’s operation, police seized handguns, hunting and sports weapons, and long-range rifles in addition to cell phones, computers and documents, images broadcast on local television showed.

Since 2017, a total of 14,940 firearms have been reported missing or stolen in Peru, according to a report by the Voice of America (VOA) Turkish edition on Thursday.

Peruvian security expert Jaime Rivera told VOA Turkish that the biggest threat in Latin America is criminal organizations.

Rivera said that in Peru, the majority of those involved in arms trafficking are groups engaged in drug smuggling and hired assassinations.

He added that numerous international cartels are operating in the country and that due to the vested interests criminal organizations have with bureaucrats, crime, violence and armament issues in the country have escalated.

Andrei Serbin Pont, president of the Regional Coordinator of Social and Economic Research (CRIES), a network of more than 70 research centers, think tanks, NGOs and other organizations focused on Latin America and the Caribbean, told VOA Turkish that there has recently been an increase in Turkish-made weapons in Latin America.

He said Turkish-made weapons in the region were mostly seized while being smuggled from Paraguay to Brazil, adding that the Armaq pistol and the AR-15 rifle, which is produced in the US and Turkey, were among the weapons taken from Peru to Ecuador.

Data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) show that Turkey’s exports of “weapons and ammunition, their parts, components and accessories” to Peru, which amounted to $308,340 in 2021, increased to $1 million in 2022 and further rose to $2.2 million last year.

Guatemala was the Latin American country to which Turkey exported the most weapons and ammunition last year, at approximately $4.97 million, followed by Ecuador with around $4.47 million.

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