This will be one of the last pictures of them together. They were at Baru beach at about 10:30 a.m. when the assailants boarded a private boat and shot at a Marcelo Pecki. The bullet struck the prosecutor in the face and back, killing him. He was 45 years old.
Aguilera told the Colombian newspaper El Timpo, “He just looked at her and shot her.” “He didn’t say anything.”
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The shameless killings of Pecky, a major South American partner in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, have shocked Colombians and Paraguayans alike, and underscored the dangers of drug trafficking investigations in Latin America. The identities and motives of the suspects are unclear, but authorities believe Peckie was targeted for his work in investigating “international terrorism.”
The US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has expressed its frustration. “Pecki’s work in the fight against organized crime stands as an example to all of us – especially his efforts to bring to justice those involved in money laundering, drug trafficking and corruption,” the agency said.
The killings from Peki’s home country on the other side of the continent showed the growing international nature of organized crime in the region, authorities and analysts said.
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Pecki was the most powerful prosecutor in Paraguay, a country of about 7 million people between Brazil and Argentina. In recent years, he has investigated high-profile cases involving drug traffickers and the shooting of a model at a concert near Asancion in January, and the jailing of the famous Brazilian soccer player Ronaldinho in 2020 for entering the country on a fake passport.
Pecki was also part of Paraguay’s largest-ever ultrasound operation in Europe to deal with the flow of drugs. He recently ordered the confiscation of property owned by a Brazilian drug lord known as Cabeza Branca.
An international investigation has been launched into his murder, and Colombian and Paraguayan authorities are working closely with the FBI, DEA and Interpol. On Wednesday, General George Luis Vargas, director of the Colombian National Police, released a sketch of a potential suspect, usually wearing a hat off the coast of Colombia. Authorities say the suspect has a Caribbean accent.
“It’s a murder against justice,” Vargas said. “There is a very organized crime system here.”
A police official involved in the investigation said the injured man was probably a Colombian, suggesting that the work was outsourced to hire assassins in the country. The main suspect is not Cartagena, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation. Authorities are investigating whether the suspect may have links to the criminal organization.
“The truth is that it was not difficult to find out where the prosecutor was,” the official said. “Everything was published on social media and getting to that area is not complicated.”
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Pecki and Aguilera were assigned a security detail in Paraguay, but they had no bodyguards this week because they were relaxed on the beach. Aguilera told El Timpo that the couple felt calm. “We had no threats,” he said.
Paraguay has historically been a peaceful country, but it has been the victim of a recent surge in violence involving South America’s largest cannabis producer and Brazil’s drug cartel. Its location between Brazil and Argentina, the continent’s largest economy, “could make it a prime place for these groups to have a foothold,” said Greg Ross, an analyst at Hxagon, a Latin America-centric political consultancy.
“It’s very interesting that there is a possibility that Colombian organized criminal groups are involved,” Ross said.
The assassination comes just weeks before Colombia’s presidential election. Last week, Colombia’s largest drug cartel terrorized cities across 10 divisions, including Bolivar’s Cartagena division, with an “armed strike” in protest of the leader’s extradition to the United States. For four days, Clan del Golfo paramilitary forces blocked roads, closed businesses and ordered civilians to stay in their homes.
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Officials say this may be the first time a Paraguayan prosecutor has been killed for his work. Paraguayan prosecutor Alicia Sapriza told reporters in Cartagena that Pecki’s death “caused us great pain.”
“We have no precedent for a colleague with such a brilliant, irresistible track record who has been a victim of such fights against organized crime,” Saprija said. He said his death marked a “before and after” for investigative work in Paraguay.
A former Pecky colleague said Paraguay prosecutors were in a state of panic.
“Here, we don’t have all the infrastructure, we don’t have cameras,” said the former colleague, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue. “Airports do not have radar, ports do not have control systems. “We are not ready.”
A former partner of Pecky at Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat described him as an honest man and a “prosecutor like a few others.”
“It’s a big shame that happened,” he said. Like many others, the former partner lamented that Pekki was shot dead across his country’s borders.
“They could have killed him in Paraguay if they wanted,” he said. “That’s interesting.”