The navy is investigating organized crime’s use of the internet to purchase weapons and military equipment, Navy Minister Rafael Ojeda said Friday.
Speaking at President López Obrador’s regular news conference, Ojeda said the navy has detected the use of different electronic platforms to purchase firearms and military equipment such as helmets and bulletproof vests.
“Through naval intelligence we’re looking at where these platforms … [operate] from, … a lot of the time they’re hidden,” he said. The navy chief also said that crime groups can purchase equipment from sites that operate from the United States.
Organized crime’s use of the internet to purchase military equipment is not new. An investigation by the United States government found that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) purchased military equipment on eBay between 2018 and 2019 and had it shipped to Mexico from the U.S. by courier companies. Among the items CJNG members bought were parts for grenade launchers, rifles and other other guns as well as holographic weapon sights, night-vision goggles and bulletproof vests.
Milenio reported Friday that bulletproof vests that purportedly come from the National Guard and the defunct Federal Police as well as military-style helmets are sold on social media. Hundreds of Facebook users sell bulletproof vests for as little as 500 pesos (US $25), the newspaper said. Vests and other tactical gear are also available on e-commerce site Mercado Libre, Milenio said, adding that firearms and ammunition can be purchased via the messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram.
Some of the items available online were possibly stolen by security force members. Ojeda said Friday that uniforms have been stolen from navy facilities and sold to cartel henchmen. “It’s happened at least two or three times, … we’ve detected elements removing uniforms from our storerooms and selling them to organized crime,” he said.
“… Fortunately our counterintelligence has detected them and we’ve discharged them because putting them in jail is very difficult due to legal issues. But they leave the institution, they go. If they want to commit crimes, they can do so outside [the navy] but not inside,” Ojeda said.
For his part, National Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval told the press conference that tactical gear is widely available in brick and mortar stores as well. “It’s easy for [organized] crime to purchase … tactical equipment. There are currently a lot of places where it’s sold, … it’s sold in a lot of stores,” he said.
Milenio reported that one place where such such equipment is available is Lagunilla, a market-filled Mexico City neighborhood that adjoins the notoriously dangerous barrio of Tepito, where all sorts of pirated and illegal goods can be found.
The quality of some of the equipment sold on the black market is poor, Sandoval said. “In the case of bulletproof vests, we’ve seized a significant number. … Not all have the characteristics they should have … to be effective,” he said.
The army chief explained that some vests seized by the military don’t provide the same protection as those used by the armed forces due to the materials with which they’re made. “A person who uses them is vulnerable because they don’t have material with sufficient resistance to stop the impact of a firearm,” Sandoval said.
“… There are places where the use of this [poor quality] equipment by [organized] crime is seen more,” he added. “I would mention Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Michoacán [and] Jalisco.”