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News > Latin America

Guatemalan General Leading US Training Arrested for MS-13 Links

  • The Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gangs are accused of blackmailing business owners and drivers in Central America.

    The Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gangs are accused of blackmailing business owners and drivers in Central America. | Photo: EFE

Published 22 April 2018

Guatemalan Colonel de Leon collaborated with the U.S. military in securing the border, despite prosecutors knowing he worked with local gangs.

A Guatemalan military colonel that worked with the U.S. Southern Command in border security operations has been arrested for money laundering and collaborating with the infamous Mara Salvatrucha gang.


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Ariel Salvador de Leon, 50, Infantry Colonel and Defense Ministry's Chiefs of Staff Logistics Director, was arrested as part of the Regional Shield II operation, aimed at arresting gang leaders involved in extortion to drivers business owners.

In Sept. 2017, de Leon had collaborated with the U.S. Southern Command for the establishment of training areas for security forces with the aim of protecting the border with Honduras and El Salvador against the same criminal groups he had been working for.

“Due to threads we're facing at our country's southern border, the Office for Cooperation on Security of the Southern Command and Guatemala's National Defense Ministry agreed to develop the training site MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain),” said de Leon at that time, “in order to strengthen the trainig of our units and improve cooperation among the Northern Triangle countries [Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras].”

But months before the joint military operation, the Guatemalan government already knew about de Leon's criminal activities.

Guatemala's general attorney knew de Leon had direct contact with Emigdio Rodas Diaz, son of a front man for Jose Arturo Lagos Reyes “the Ghost,” head of the Hemster Locos Salvatrucha branch in the Quetzaltenango department.

"The militaries sorrounding Jimmy Morales are those committing crimes, those that are leaders of the Salvatruchas and their extortions. Colonel Ariel Salvador de Leon was present the day the Guatemalan Army's high officers supported Jimmy [Morales, president]. So, what can we expect?"

“On June 5, 2017, in a restaurant located at [Guatemala City's] Zone 5, the military officer was followed to document his meeting with the son of the front man. It was established that he had links with the front man of the gang's leader and the colonel's role was to clean the money through legal businesses,” says a declaration by the Prosecutor Against Extortion.

De Leon had declared a monthly income of US$1,364, but investigations showed he had up to US$1,862,586.44 in different bank accounts. The colonel will have his first hearing on May 16, along with others accused of similar charges.

In a press release regarding de Leon's arrest, the Guatemalan army said it reaffirms its “commitment to transparency and declared a face-to-face fight against those breaking the law or denigrating the institution's honor, offering full collaboration to the institutions that require it.”

About 90 people were arrested during the police operations including de Leon and Commissioner Lucindo Chavez Cifuentes, accused of leaking information to the gang.

According to Pablo Castillo, spokesman of the National Civil Police, about 41 of the arrested people weren't part of the Mara Salvatrucha gangs, but were “impersonators” using the same intimidating tactics and using the gangs names without actually belonging to them.

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