Authorities in El Salvador dismantled an MS13 network allegedly dedicated to forcing women into marriages before assassinating the husband to collect insurance money, a scheme that speaks to the gang's growing business sophistication.
Three women, who are allegedly members of an MS13 structure dubbed "Black Widows," were arrested on February 24 and given pre-trial detention on February 27, reported La Prensa Gráfica.
According to a February 24 press release by the Salvadoran Attorney General's Office, the suspects are facing charges of aggravated human trafficking, intent and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, aggravated fraud and criminal association. Five other suspects are still at large.
The case was built on testimony from two victims in 2014 and 2016. These women described how they were kidnapped in a house after accepting a job as a cleaning lady from members of the criminal structure. They were then forced into marrying a man, who himself was tricked into believing that the marriage would help them move to the United States. The network would convince the male victim into buying life insurance before eventually assassinating him. The widows were then forced to file paperwork so that the group could collect the insurance money.
Authorities were able to trace at least $60,000 from this scheme that ended up in the suspects' bank accounts. The Attorney General's Office said that this was the first dismantled MS13 structure of its kind, according to La Prensa Gráfica.
The MS13's elaborate scheme involving life insurance payouts underscores how the gang is finding an increasing number of ways to generate income. Last November, the group was accused of profiting off selling contraband horse meat on the black market. And during a vast operation in 2016, authorities discovered the complexity of the gang's financial assets, which included motels, bars, brothels and car dealerships.
The MS13's expanding business portfolio carries important implications for the conflict it is waging against the Salvadoran government. The gang's growing revenue streams enable it to find news to put pressure on the authorities. For instance, last year's operation unearthed an MS13 plan to pool nationwide extortion money to fund the creation of an elite unit armed with high-powered rifles that were intended to be used in a frontal attack against state institutions.
Tristan Clavel writes for InSightCrime, from where this article is adapted.