PANAMA CITY -- The Colombian drug gang known as the Gulf Clan cartel controls over half the cocaine shipments that travel through Panama, and had established an extensive logistics and money laundering network in the global transportation hub, authorities said Monday.
John Dornheim, Panama’s police chief, said the cartel has been infiltrating the country’s business sector, which is largely based on the Panama Canal and banking services.
“Seven million containers a year move through the country's ports two on the Pacific side and three on the Caribbean, and that fuels the country's legal economy,” Dornheim. “The (criminal) gangs use the country's legal services to carry out illegal activities.”
Dornheim said 70% percent of Panama's homicides are linked to drug trafficking.
The statements came days after Panamanian authorities seized $10 million in cash and arrested 57 people in different raids. Among those arrested were government employees and members of security agencies. Dozens of properties and vehicles were also seized in last week’s raids.
Security Minister Juan Manuel Pino said more arrests are possible, as the extent of the cartel's network in Panama is uncovered.
“All of a sudden more people are coming out as being involved in the administrative side, bank accounts, front men, “ Pino said, ”because a lot of them were involved in laundering money.”
The cartel controls the Caribbean route through other Central American countries; cocaine is then shipped to the United States.
Pino said Panama has seized 119 tons of drugs so far this year, a record, and well ahead of the 95 tons seized in 2019.
The Gulf cartel is based in northern Colombia near the border with Panama.
El Clan del Golfo opera en una zona del Caribe próxima a la frontera colombo-panameña. Previamente, las autoridades de Panamá capturaron a algunos de los líderes de esa organización que luego extraditó a Estados Unidos.