On May 10, Marcelo Pecci—a Paraguayan criminal prosecutor thought to be on his way to becoming his country’s next attorney general—was shot, evidently by skilled assassins, while honeymooning with his wife in Colombia. In a country where corruption is endemic, Pecci had been incorruptible, and was dedicated to investigating organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and terrorism finance—areas that are closely intertwined in his country. Emanuele Ottolenghi puts his life’s work, and his death, in context:
In recent years, Paraguay has become a key transit hub for increasingly larger quantities of cocaine. Foreign crime syndicates have moved in, both to work with and to compete against local networks. . . . Pecci disrupted operations of transnational criminal organizations operating inside his country, which include Latin American, European, Asian, and Middle Eastern crime syndicates.
Where there is organized crime there is money laundering, and for decades, Hizballah has been a key financial-service provider to crime syndicates across Latin America. It operates in multiple locations, with Colombia being a historic hub of cooperation with organized crime. But its facilitators also operate along all of Paraguay’s frontiers.
Hizballah and Iranian agents have been in Colombia for years. Iran’s influence networks have an established presence not only in Bogotá, but also in other parts of the country, where they recruit and radicalize locals through Iranian-controlled mosques and cultural centers. Their influence operation is run by a proxy of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the U.S.-sanctioned Al Mustafa International University. Hizballah has also been there for a long time, leveraging local Lebanese Shiite expatriates to launder money on behalf of drug cartels. Their proceeds help Hizballah self-fund over and above Iranian direct contributions. The combination of Iranian and Hizballah networks creates a perfect environment to plan and carry out an attack.
Last year, Iran already tried to carry out an assassination in Colombia against an Israeli citizen by contracting locals. That they failed says nothing about Iran and Hizballah’s capabilities to assassinate a man like Marcelo Pecci.
Of course, Ottolenghi observes, there were many criminal organizations that wanted to see Pecci dead. But Hizballah had both means and motive.