Paraguay anti-drug prosecutor shot dead on honeymoon in Colombia

Marcelo Pecci, 45, was fatally shot while relaxing on a beach on Colombia’s Carribean island of Baru, his wife says.

Marcelo Pecci speaks during a news conference in Paraguay
Marcelo Pecci had specialised in organised crime, drug trafficking, money laundering and the financing of terrorism [File: Daniel Duarte/AFP]

Paraguayan anti-drug prosecutor Marcelo Pecci has been shot dead while honeymooning on a Colombian Caribbean island by men who fled by sea, police and his widow said.

Paraguay’s president denounced the crime as a “cowardly murder” and a fellow prosecutor said the modus operandi was reminiscent of “the [drug] mafia”.

Pecci, 45, was felled by two shots on Tuesday while relaxing on a beach on the tourist island of Baru, according to his wife, Paraguayan journalist Claudia Aguilera, whom he married on April 30 in the nearby city of Cartagena.

“Two men attacked Marcelo. They came in a small boat, or on a jet ski, the truth is I did not see well,” she told the El Tiempo newspaper.

One of the assailants got out and “without a word he shot Marcelo twice, one [bullet] hit him in the face and another in the back”, Aguilera said.

She said her husband of less than two weeks had not received any threats.

The Decameron hotel, where the couple was staying, said in a statement that “assassins arrived on the beach … and attacked and murdered one of our guests”.

Colombian President Ivan Duque speaks during an interview
Colombia’s President Ivan Duque denounced the killing, promising to cooperate with Paraguay ‘to find those responsible’ [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

The motive for the killing was not immediately known, but Paraguayan prosecutor Augusto Salas, a colleague of Pecci, said the modus operandi was “typical of the [drug] mafia, so that is what I will think until the contrary is proven”.

Colombian police chief Jorge Luis Vargas said five homicide investigators have been dispatched to Baru, and will receive backing from Paraguayan and US experts.

“There is information being collected … that will help us identify those responsible,” Vargas said.

Colombian President Ivan Duque “denounced” the killing on Twitter. Duque said he had offered condolences to his Paraguayan counterpart Mario Abdo Benitez and promised “cooperation to find those responsible”.

For his part, Benitez said on Twitter: “The entire Paraguayan nation mourns the cowardly murder of prosecutor Marcelo Pecci in Colombia.

“We condemn this tragic event in the strongest terms, and we redouble our commitment to fighting organized crime,” he added.

Pecci’s office said in a statement that steps were being taken “to provide assistance and guarantee the safety of his family”.

Pecci had specialised in organised crime, drug trafficking, money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

He was involved in investigations against Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho, held in Paraguay for several months in 2020 over a fake passport scandal.

He also led an operation that led to the seizure of dozens of properties acquired through money laundering, and the arrest of some 30 people this year.

The US embassy in Paraguay offered its condolences to Pecci’s loved ones and hailed his “commitment, professionalism and dedication to the fight against organised crime”.

Paraguay’s ambassador to Colombia, Sophia Lopez, said Pecci was on a “private” trip and had no work meetings scheduled.

Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer, is contending with a wave of violence despite a 2016 peace deal that disarmed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) group and ended a near six-decade civil conflict.

Fighting over territory and resources continues in parts of the country between dissident FARC armed fighters, the ELN rebel group, paramilitary forces and drug cartels.

For its part, landlocked Paraguay – nestled between Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina – has become an important launchpad for drugs headed for Europe.

Paraguay and Colombia have recently strengthened their alliance in the fight against organised and cross-border crime.

Source: AFP