In April 2018 stories appeared in the Argentine press about half a ton of marijuana missing at a judicial storage facility in Campana, a town to the north of the capital city of Buenos Aires. The police comisario who had taken charge of this evidence warehouse in April 2017 reported the problem. Perhaps having been tipped off that an inspection was imminent, he and his colleagues decided it was necessary to account for the absent narcotics. The reason they gave for the irregularity was bizarre.
Those involved, three comisarios (a rank approximately equivalent to superintendent) and five police officers, even when interviewed separately, unanimously claimed the missing marijuana had been eaten by rats. (Mice were the culprits in some reports.) Unsurprisingly, the ‘eaten by rats’ defence didn’t hold up in front of the judge.
Zoological experts were called on to provide information. They said rats wouldn’t have mistaken the marijuana for food and they would have died if they did eat it, highly potent cannabis is toxic to rats. Also, it would’ve taken a plague of thousands to eat five hundred kilos. Residents of the area reckoned there weren’t many rats or mice around because of all the stray cats.
Rats usually send one animal out as a scout and if that rat dies after eating a new source of food the others don’t eat it. Furthermore, although rats are often seen around marijuana plantations, they only use the storks of plants to sharpen their teeth and nails.
The National Gendarmes raided the storage space to get to the bottom of things. Sniffer dogs found no trace of rodents, dead or alive, and it was confirmed that the Marijuana hadn’t rotted. To further complicate matters, after the raid the amount missing was raised to over eight hundred kilograms.
Looking for precedents, there was a case in Wichita, Kansas, in 2013 where mice ate and nested in marijuana in an evidence building. Clerks had to clear the pests out and repackage the remaining marijuana as the plastic wrapping had been gnawed through. The amount eaten in Wichita was nowhere near half a ton.
Rats and mice are given THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in lab experiments. However, rather than getting them to eat the drug, lab workers put a controlled dose of THC straight into the rodents’ veins. Still, a hotshot defence lawyer and a cooperative toxicologist as expert witness could have used the Wichita case and the lab experiments to create doubt as to whether the marijuana would have poisoned the rats in Argentina.
Another rat story in 2018, this time from Guwahati, India, might have helped in establishing that the rat is a hugely destructive animal. A single dead rat was found in an ATM that had been out of order for some days. Over 1.2 million rupees (nearly 18,000 USD) worth of notes had been shredded for nesting or eaten by this rodent.
Rather ironically, rat poison can sometimes be an ingredient in cheap narcotics. In April 2018 a story broke in the United States that a number of people had died from using synthetic marijuana laced with rat poison, which causes death in a highly unpleasant way — internal hemorrhaging. Rat poison, hopefully in amounts not lethal to humans, is also used in producing paco — a drug smoked in Argentina that’s a combination of cocaine paste, benzoic acid, methanol and kerosene. The highly addictive paco destroys your prefrontal cortex and teeth.
The judge in the Argentine case said it was a given that the missing drugs had re-entered the commercial market. The marijuana had been in the judicial storage facility for somewhere between two and five years — depending on which report you go with. Normally a large capture of drugs like this would be incinerated in a special oven that doesn’t expel smoke harmful for the environment (or get people high). After being weighed, photographed and sampled the narcotics are no longer needed — although, some experts claim they are better held onto as evidence until the case is fully closed.
Only comisario Emilio Portero who made the denouncement about the missing narcotics was processed by judge Adrián González Charvay. Portero didn’t receive jail time as there was no proof he sold the Marijuana, he is now out of a job though. The other officers involved received demerits but no other punishment.
Context – corruption in la Bonaerense
Journalist Ricardo Ragendorfer is an expert on corruption in the Province of Buenos Aires Police Force (commonly known as la Bonaerense) having written about the topic for decades. In his 1997 book, written with Carlos Dutil, “La Bonaerense. Historia criminal de la policía de Buenos Aires”, Ragendorfer traces the corruption in la Bonaerense back to the military dictatorship in the late 70s and early 80s when police, operating with licence to ignore civilian rights, learnt the arts of kidnapping, trafficking of drugs and even extrajudicial killings. Illicit profits would be collected by the rank and file and passed on to the cacique at the top, just like in any criminal band. Civilian governments have not managed to significantly change this rotten culture among the provincial police despite various purges and anti-corruption drives.
From reading Ragendorfer’s rather badly organised book, the self-governing, self-financing Bonaerense appears to be one of the biggest organised crime groups in the province of Buenos Aires. Ragendorfer concentrates on the Provincial Governorship of Duhalde in the 1990s, and things have probably improved since then.
In the latest anti-corruption campaigns under Governor Maria Eugenia Vidal from 2015 until the middle of 2019, 900 officers were detained for involvement in organized crime, drug trafficking and other causes, a further 12,800 were dismissed from the force due to dishonesty. However, in April 2019 Ragendorfer wrote that Vidal had failed to put a stop to the criminal activities of la Bonaerense. Ragendorfer has also suggested that la Bonaerense struggles to recruit good quality candidates and give appropriate training. The hilarious attempt at a cover-up in the case outlined above rather backs up his argument.
About the author: Frank Beyer, from New Zealand, writes about history, true crime and international relations. His articles have appeared in the LA Review of Books, South China Morning Post and History is Now magazine. More of his writing here: https://frankebeyer.contently.com/