The drug trafficker Marset opens a political crisis in Uruguay: four senior officials resign in less than a week

The drug trafficker Marset opens a political crisis in Uruguay:
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Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle during the South American Summit inUESLEI MARCELINO (REUTERS)

“There is a political crisis and that is why I am resigning,” said Luis Alberto Heber, who until Monday was in charge of the Ministry of the Interior of Uruguay. His departure was precipitated in the midst of the political turbulence that was generated in the hard core of the Government due to the delivery of a Uruguayan passport to drug trafficker Sebastián Marset, while he was imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates in 2021. Heber's right-hand man, Guillermo Maciel, Undersecretary of the Interior, also resigned this week. Both resignations were not surprising because they had been announced by the president, Luis Lacalle Pou, in a press conference held on Saturday night. Recently arrived from the United States, the president also announced that publicist Roberto Lafluf, affected by this matter, would leave his position as government communications advisor. The Prosecutor's Office is studying whether or not to summon the head of state to testify.

The trigger for the political crisis was the statements in the Prosecutor's Office by former Vice Chancellor Carolina Ache on November 1, which led to the immediate fall of Foreign Minister Francisco Bustillo. Ache presented audios in which Bustillo asked him to “lose” her mobile phone to allegedly delete a WhatsApp conversation between her and Maciel, Undersecretary of the Interior. In that brief chat Maciel warned about Marset's criminal record: “We can know what happened to this criminal detained in Dubai by document [paraguayo] fake. He is a very dangerous and heavy-handed Uruguayan drug trafficker. [Podemos] "To know if he is still detained or if they released him, which would be terrible."

Express procedure

On November 3, 2021, when that consultation revealed by the newspaper occurred the dailyMarset remained imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates, where he had been detained on September 10. However, the content of that chat did not prevent the drug trafficker from obtaining the Uruguayan passport “expressly,” according to what was reported by the Frente Amplio, an opposition party.

A day passed between when Marset's details were taken in the Emirati prison and the document was printed in Montevideo, according to what the former Uruguayan consul in the Emirates, Fiorella Prado, stated in the Prosecutor's Office. Nor did a note sent by that consulate hinder the process, which suggested that the Foreign Ministry delay it until the judicial process that Marset was facing for falsified documentation was resolved. On the contrary, the processing of the Uruguayan passport would have been used by the drug defense to obtain his release between January and February 2022. Shortly after, in March 2022, Interpol Paraguay would issue an international arrest warrant against this 32-year-old Uruguayan. who is on the run.

Within the framework of the mega anti-drug operation A Ultranza Py, carried out in Paraguay in February 2022, Marset was accused of being one of the leaders of the structure dedicated to trafficking cocaine by containers from Paraguay, where he lived, to Europe. “We see him as a kind of manager of the waterway [Paraná-Paraguay]", the head of Paraguay's anti-drug prosecutors, Marco Alcaraz, told the newspaper about Marset. The nation. This operation was carried out, among others, by the Paraguayan anti-mafia prosecutor Marcelo Pecci, murdered in Colombia in May 2022. Marset was accused by the Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, of being behind that crime. He is also looking for Bolivia, where the drug trafficker lived between last year and 2023 under the false identity of Luis Paulo Amorím Santos. In Bolivia he bought a soccer club in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. In that Bolivian region he was located on July 30, but he managed to escape and outwit the 3,000 police officers deployed to capture him.

Sebastian Marset, in a video capture. Reuters

“Even knowing who Marset was, the passport had to be given. Whether it was a drug trafficker or anything: it had to be given, according to the current law,” said Lacalle Pou at the conference last Saturday. The Uruguayan Government has defended the inevitability of granting the document based on a 2014 decree regarding the issuance of passports, which required taking into account only criminal cases opened in Uruguay – not those abroad – to grant it. And all of Marset's cases in the country, the authorities have insisted, were closed at the time of the procedure. The argument does not convince the Frente Amplio opponent. “This decree did not oblige us to act as we did, nor did it oblige us to act in the times, forms and procedures chosen by the Administration,” said the Broad Front senator Mario Bergara during the parliamentary questioning of those responsible for the Interior and Exterior, held in August. of 2022.

Destruction of documents

In that questioning, the then Foreign Minister Bustillo emphasized that “no one knew” who Marset was when the passport was processed and delivered to the drug trafficker, between October and November 2021. The communication maintained between the Undersecretary of the Interior, Maciel, and his counterpart of Foreign Affairs, Ache, which warned about the danger of Marset, destroyed Bustillo's version.

According to the audios presented by Ache and broadcast by the weekly Search, The former chancellor ordered the undersecretary to “lose” her cell phone to hide that chat claimed by Justice at the request of the Frente Amplio. Lacalle Pou's advisor, Roberto Lafluf, would also have asked Ache to eliminate that evidence in a meeting held at the Government House at the request of the president himself. Ache told prosecutor Alejandro Machado that the presidential advisor “destroyed” a public document in which those chats appeared. This motivated the Public Ministry to open a new investigation through which it could take statements from President Lacalle Pou.

The person who appeared before prosecutor Machado on Monday was Alejandro Balbi, Marset's lawyer during the document processing. “There is only one conclusion and only one coincidence among all the actors who have come to testify: the legality of granting the passport to this person,” said Balbi as he left the Prosecutor's Office in Montevideo. When consulted by the press, the lawyer avoided answering about the content of the meeting he had in the Foreign Ministry with former undersecretary Carolina Ache, in November 2021, when the passport had not yet reached Marset. That meeting has triggered all kinds of speculations, which continue their course after the explanations given by Balbi and which baffled the prosecutor, as heard in the audios broadcast by the local media.

It was a meeting of a few minutes, Balbi said in the Prosecutor's Office, to consult Ache about the departure date of the diplomatic bag to the United Arab Emirates, without mentioning the passport in question. “Didn't she tell the vice chancellor what she wanted to send in that diplomatic bag or who she represented?” Prosecutor Machado asked. Balbi understood that explaining that to Ache was not relevant. “Honestly, it doesn't close us,” said the prosecutor. And he added: “It's like a bad Venezuelan comedy.” A bad Uruguayan comedy, prosecutor Machado may have wanted to suggest, with a plot, protagonists and local billing.

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