Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 49: Paraguayan Prosecutor Assassinated in Jet Ski Attack in Colombia
John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker
Anti-mafia prosecutor, Marcelo Pecci from Paraguay was assassinated on a beach in Barú, Colombia near Cartagena while on his honeymoon with his wife who witnessed the murder. The attack—with the hallmarks of a “transnational hit”—occurred on Tuesday, 10 May 2022 when a pair of attackers infiltrated the beach riding a jet ski. Pecci specialized in prosecuting transnational organized crime and narcotics trafficking cases.
Twitter Profile Image for Marcelo Pecci, Fiscal Especializado contra el Crimen Organizado, Narcotráfico, Lavado de Dinero y Financiamiento del Terrorismo. Ministerio Público de Paraguay [Specialized Prosecutor against Organized Crime, Drug Trafficking, Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism. Public Prosecutor's Office of Paraguay].
Key Information: “El dramático relato de la esposa del fiscal Marcelo Pecci asesinado en Barú.” El Tiempo. 10 May 2022, https://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/conflicto-y-narcotrafico/marcelo-pecci-el-testimonio-de-su-esposa-testigo-de-su-asesinato-671254:
Serena, con un tono de voz bajo y entre sollozos, Claudia Aguilera le narró a EL TIEMPO los momentos de angustia que vivió esta mañana al ser testigo, en primera línea, del asesinato de su esposo, el fiscal contra el crimen organizado de Paraguay, Marcelo Pecci.
Claudia es un reconocida periodista paraguaya quien se casó con el fiscal Pecci el 30 de abril. La pareja escogió como destino para su luna de miel la ciudad de Cartagena.
El día inició con tranquilidad y decidimos ir a la playa después de desayunar, la vista es hermosa y es nuestra luna de miel", señaló Claudia, quien se hospeda en el hotel Decameron de la isla de Barú.
La mujer relató que estando en la playa "dos hombres atacaron a Marcelo. Venían en una pequeña embarcación, o un un jet sky, la verdad no lo vi bien".
Key Information: “Fiscal antidrogas paraguayo es asesinado en Colombia.” Confirmado.net. 11 May 2022, https://confirmado.net/2022/05/11/fiscal-antidrogas-paraguayo-es-asesinado-en-colombia/:
El fiscal antinarcóticos paraguayo Marcelo Pecci, uno de los principales en el combate al narcotráfico y crimen organizado, fue asesinado este martes en Colombia por dos hombres que le dispararon en una playa de Cartagena (noreste), informaron medios de ambos países.
Desde Interpol Paraguay confirmaron el atentado que sufrió este martes el fiscal especializado contra el crimen organizado y el narcotráfico Marcelo Pecci, quien se encontraba en la isla de Barú, en la ciudad de Cartagena, Colombia, publicó el diario Última Hora de Paraguay.
Según el periódico colombiano El Espectador, que cita fuentes policiales y de la alcaldía de Cartagena, el fiscal, de 45 años, fue asesinado en la playa de un hotel en la isla de Barú cuando dos hombres en una moto de agua se acercaron y le dispararon.
Key Information: Catalina Oquendo and Santi Carneri, “Police search for killers of anti-drug prosecutor shot while honeymooning on Colombia beach. El País. 11 May 2022, https://english.elpais.com/international/2022-05-11/police-search-for-killers-of-anti-drug-prosecutor-shot-while-honeymooning-on-colombia-beach.html:
The murder has shocked Paraguay and Colombia, where police officials from both countries, together with US authorities, are now trying to find the international networks that participated in the murder. Pecci was a prosecutor specializing in drug trafficking and the driving force behind the investigations of major cases of money laundering and organized crime in Paraguay. He had recently participated in the operation Ultranza Py against drug trafficking in that country.
“It is difficult to establish a link as to why, although everything points to the fact that he harmed the interests of the criminal cocaine-trafficking market that operates from Paraguay and uses the entire Paraguay-Paraná waterway to take the drug out through the ports of Buenos Aires or Montevideo on its way to European, Australian and Asian markets. It is the strongest hypothesis as to why he was murdered,” Juan Martens Molas, a doctor of criminology and director of the Comparative Institute of Social and Criminal Sciences Inecip, explained to EL PAÍS.
But narco-politics, which has also become a reality in Paraguay, is another factor to keep in mind, explains the expert. “It is very difficult to find a case where a politician is not involved. Several cases that Pecci was handling also involved politicians who are in prison.
Key Information: Nathaniel Janowitz, “Assassins Just Killed a Narco Prosecutor on His Honeymoon at the Beach.” VICE. 12 May 2022, https://www.vice.com/en/article/akvbba/paraguay-marcelo-pecci-claudia-aguilera:
A top Paraguayan organized crime prosecutor was murdered while honeymooning at a beach in Colombia on May 10. The assassins arrived at the beach on a jet-ski or small boat and gunned down Marcelo Pecci, according to his new wife—prominent Paraguayan journalist Claudia Aguilera…
… Aguilera told Colombian newspaper El Tiempo that she and Pecci were at the beach after breakfast on Tuesday when two men arrived around 10:30 a.m. on either a small boat or a jet-ski, although she wasn’t sure which…
…Paraguayan newspaper La Nacion claimed that the killers rented a red jet ski for 30 minutes from a nearby tourist rental agency for around $50. The two men returned 16 minutes later, changed their clothes, and quickly escaped…
…Jet-ski drive-bys have become more common in Latin America, especially in Mexican seaside cities like Acapulco and Cancun.
Key Information: Sergio Saffon and Carlos Peris, “Paraguay Grapples with Criminal Sophistication After Prosecutor's Slaying.” InSight Crime. 12 May 2022, https://insightcrime.org/news/paraguay-grapples-changing-criminal-landscape-prosecutor-assassination/:
The assassination of a crusading Paraguayan prosecutor while on honeymoon in Colombia has caused widespread alarm about the rising levels of sophistication and brazenness of Paraguayan criminal groups.
The killing of Paraguayan prosecutor Marcelo Pecci – who was shot dead May 10 on the island of Barú – involved a complex operation that originated in Paraguay, Colombian authorities said.
“The murder of Paraguayan prosecutor Marcelo Pecci was linked to a transnational organized crime network with a high-level of planning and investment in resources,” Colombia’s police chief, Jorge Luis Vargas, wrote on Twitter on May 11…
… Pecci was one of the foremost anti-crime prosecutors in the country, working on a number of high-profile cases over the last decade. Most recently, he had been working on A Ultranza PY, an anti-drug operation that dismantled a criminal network moving cocaine from Paraguay to Europe. The probe into the network implicated politicians, army personnel and business elites, according to the BBC. He also investigated Brazil’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), which maintains a large presence in Paraguay. He was a lead investigator on the “Zootopia” case, which helped to break up an important Brazilian drug trafficking operation in Paraguay.
Third Generation Gangs Analysis
Marcelo Pecci, an organized crime prosecutor from Paraguay was assassinated in a “jet ski” assault by two gunmen while on a beach in Barú Island near Cartagena, Colombia on Tuesday, 10 May 2022. Pecci had previously led investigations and prosecuted Brazil’s Primero Comando do Capital (PCC), as well as money-laundering cases linked to Hezbollah in Paraguay.
According to Colombia’s El Tiempo. “The prosecutor specializing in organized crime, drug trafficking, money laundering and the financing of terrorism was spending his honeymoon with his wife, journalist Claudia Aguilera, when the murder took place.” In addition to transnational organized crime cases, involving drug mafias,” Pecci was one of the prosecutors in charge of the case against soccer legend Ronaldinho, who in March 2020 was arrested on charges of using a false Paraguayan passport when he entered the country.”
From a tactical perspective, jet ski assaults are becoming a more common tactic, technique, and procedure (TTP) among Latin American criminal organizations—notably by Mexican criminal cartels. Described as ‘James Bond-style’ executions, contemporary incidents have taken place in Acapulco in January 2016, in Cancún in April 2018, and again in Cancún in June 2021. On the other side of the world, jet skis have increasingly been used by terrorist groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) since 2014 against Israeli offshore facilities. Additionally, heightened concerns of Hezbollah jet ski commandos attacking Israeli maritime interests were raised in the Fall of 2017 which promoted Israeli naval exercises —that same terrorist group was linked to some of Pecci’s cases.
Ultimately, Marcelo Pecci, as a top Paraguayan prosecutor, made numerous enemies in a ‘who’s who’ list of illicit narcotics trafficking and money-laundering groups (and corrupt and co-opted high-level politicians). One of them ultimately launched the successful operation to assassinate him. Given his and his wife’s use of social media chronicling their honeymoon at the beach resort at Barú, tracking where he was staying was relatively easy. The sicarios (assassins) on a jet ski who had gained access to the beach (likely at a private resort) where he was lounging simply walked up to Pecci and shot him twice with a pistol at close range, killing him. Given that immediately after the killing one of them dropped off the jet ski and life vests back to the rental shop where they obtained them—presumably to receive back their cash deposit (16 minutes into the 30 minute rental)—the contract killers secured to carry out the operation existed at an economically marginal level. Their behavior suggests that they placed far more value on the return of their cash deposit than the need to follow basic post-incident OPSEC (operational security) measures. This signifies that they may be operating within early third generation gang—mercenary—parameters rather than belonging to more sophisticated (and better trained and affluent) cartel or terrorist type organizations.
Wanted Poster of Person of Interest in the Assassination of Marcelo Pecci. Source: General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, Director General de la Policía Nacional de Colombia, Twitter. 11 May 2022, https://twitter.com/DirectorPolicia/status/1524355997946585089?s=20&t=8Z9cDTb2tFwXsoLZEw2wYA.
El Director General de la Policía Nacional, General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, encabeza las labores investigativas en coordinación con la Fiscalía General de la Nación y el apoyo de autoridades de EE. UU. y Paraguay [Director General of the National Police, General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, is leading the investigation in coordination with the Attorney General's Office and the support of authorities from the US and Paraguay]. 11 May 2022, https://www.policia.gov.co/noticia/policia-nacional-y-fiscalia-revelan-imagen-uno-presuntos-autores-homicidio-fiscal-paraguayo.
Another significant component of the incident is that it represents a contemporary Mexican cartel TTP that has now migrated to Latin America, specifically Colombia. Given increasing Cártel de Sinaloa (CDS) and Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) activities in that country, the possibility exists that these and other sicario TTPs are being introduced at the same time while indigenous Criminal Armed Group (CAG) TTPs are being shared with Mexican cartel personnel. The expectation exists that such TTPs—and some of the weaponry associated with them—will continue to be exchanged as more and more transitional linkages are created between CAGs in Mexico and Colombia and also increasingly between CAGs in Colombia and similar groups operating in both Paraguay and Brazil.
“El dramático relato de la esposa del fiscal Marcelo Pecci asesinado en Barú.” El Tiempo. 10 May 2022, https://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/conflicto-y-narcotrafico/marcelo-pecci-el-testimonio-de-su-esposa-testigo-de-su-asesinato-671254.
“Fiscal antidrogas paraguayo es asesinado en Colombia.” Confirmado.net. 11 May 2022, https://confirmado.net/2022/05/11/fiscal-antidrogas-paraguayo-es-asesinado-en-colombia/.
Nathaniel Janowitz, “Assassins Just Killed a Narco Prosecutor on His Honeymoon at the Beach.” VICE. 12 May 2022, https://www.vice.com/en/article/akvbba/paraguay-marcelo-pecci-claudia-aguilera.
John Montaño, “Asesinaron en Cartagena a reconocido fiscal antimafia de Paraguay. El Tiempo. 10 May 2022, https://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/investigacion/asesinaron-en-cartagena-a-reconocido-fiscal-de-paraguay-671195.
Catalina Oquendo, “La investigación apunta a que alguien siguió a Marcelo Pecci desde Paraguay durante su luna de miel.” El País. 13 May 2022, https://elpais.com/america-colombia/2022-05-13/la-investigacion-apunta-a-que-alguien-siguio-al-fiscal-pecci-desde-paraguay-durante-su-luna-de-miel.html.
Catalina Oquendo and Santi Carneri, “Police search for killers of anti-drug prosecutor shot while honeymooning on Colombia beach. El País. 11 May 2022, https://english.elpais.com/international/2022-05-11/police-search-for-killers-of-anti-drug-prosecutor-shot-while-honeymooning-on-colombia-beach.html.
Sergio Saffon and Carlos Peris, “Paraguay Grapples with Criminal Sophistication After Prosecutor's Slaying.” InSight Crime. 12 May 2022, https://insightcrime.org/news/paraguay-grapples-changing-criminal-landscape-prosecutor-assassination/.
 In English, the title reads: “The dramatic account of the wife of prosecutor Marcelo Pecci murdered in Barú.” The text reads: “In a low tone of voice and between sobs, Claudia Aguilera told EL TIEMPO about the moments of anguish she experienced this morning when she witnessed, on the front line, the murder of her husband, Paraguay’s prosecutor against organized crime, Marcelo Pecci. […] Claudia is a well-known Paraguayan journalist who married prosecutor Pecci on April 30. The couple chose the city of Cartagena as their honeymoon destination. […] ‘The day began calmly and we decided to go to the beach after breakfast, the view is beautiful and it is our honeymoon,’ said Claudia, who is staying at the Decameron hotel on the island of Barú. […] The woman said that while on the beach ‘two men attacked Marcelo. They came in a small boat, or a jet sky, the truth is I didn't see it well’.”
 In English, the text reads: “Paraguayan anti-drug prosecutor murdered in Colombia.” The text reads: “Paraguayan anti-narcotics prosecutor Marcelo Pecci, one of the leading figures in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, was murdered on Tuesday in Colombia by two men who shot him on a beach in Cartagena (northeast), according to media reports from both countries. […] Interpol Paraguay confirmed the attack on Marcelo Pecci, a prosecutor specializing in organized crime and drug trafficking, who was on the island of Barú, in the city of Cartagena, Colombia, reported Paraguay's Última Hora newspaper. […] According to the Colombian newspaper El Espectador, citing police and Cartagena mayor’s office sources, the 45-year-old prosecutor was killed on the beach of a hotel on the island of Barú when two men on a jet ski approached him and shot him.”
 Catalina Oquendo, “La investigación apunta a que alguien siguió a Marcelo Pecci desde Paraguay durante su luna de miel.” El País. 13 May 2022, https://elpais.com/america-colombia/2022-05-13/la-investigacion-apunta-a-que-alguien-siguio-al-fiscal-pecci-desde-paraguay-durante-su-luna-de-miel.html.
 John Montaño, “Asesinaron en Cartagena a reconocido fiscal antimafia de Paraguay. El Tiempo. 10 May 2022, https://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/investigacion/asesinaron-en-cartagena-a-reconocido-fiscal-de-paraguay-671195. In the original, the text reads, “El fiscal especializado contra el crimen organizado, narcotráfico, lavado de dinero y financiamiento del terrorismo estaba pasando su luna de miel con su esposa, la periodista Claudia Aguilera, cuando ocurrió el homicidio.”
 Ibid, In the original, the text reads, “Pecci fue uno de los fiscales que tuvo a su cargo el caso contra la leyenda del fútbol Ronaldinho, quien en marzo de 2020 fue detenido acusado de uso de pasaporte paraguayo de contenido falso cuando ingresó al país.”
 See Scott Mistler-Ferguson, “Sicarios of the Sea – Gunmen Ride Jet Skis in Mexico. InSight Crime. 7 February 2022, https://insightcrime.org/news/sicarios-sea-gunmen-ride-jet-skis-mexico/; John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #51: Gunmen Attack Cancún Beach from Jet Skis, Killing Two People.” Small Wars Journal. 16 June 2021, https://smallwarsjournal.com/index.php/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-51-gunmen-attack-cancun-beach-jet-skis-killing-two-people; and Robert Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #27: Sicarios Use a Jet Ski for Beach Front Targeted Killing in Acapulco.” Small Wars Journal. 2 March 2016, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-27-sicarios-use-a-jet-ski-for-beach-front-targeted-killing-in-.
 Anna Ahronheim, “Hamas tried to attack Israel's gas installations.” Jerusalem Post. 17 May 2021, https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/hamas-tried-to-attack-israels-gas-installations-668314.
 “WATCH: Terrorists on Jet Skis? Israeli Navy Trains for Potential Hezbollah Naval Assault.” JBN. 14 September 2017, https://jewishbreakingnews.com/2017/09/14/watch-terrorists-jet-skis-israeli-navy-trains-potential-hezbollah-naval-assault/.
 Adry Torres, “Horrific moment TV journalist sobs over body of her anti-drug prosecutor husband after he was gunned down on their HONEYMOON in Colombia just hours after she revealed she was pregnant.” Daily Mail. 12 May 2022, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10809889/Paraguayan-anti-drug-prosecutor-assassinated-Colombia-beach-honeymoon-journalist-wife.html.
 Imagery of the behavior of the sicarios while on the beach during the aftermath of the assassination suggests an amateur level of tactical training.
 For example, see Gabrielle Gorder, “Has Cali Become an Operational Hub for Mexican Cartels in Colombia?” InSight Crime. 13 April 2022, https://insightcrime.org/news/arrest-mexico-sinaloa-cartel-presence-colombia/ and Juliet Pelcastre, “Mexican Narcotrafficking Cartels Expand their Control in Colombia.” Dialogo. 12 May 2021, https://dialogo-americas.com/articles/mexican-narcotrafficking-cartels-expand-their-control-in-colombia/#.YoCXBS2ZN-U.
 A well-known TTP being shared with the Mexican cartels—specifically the CJNG—is the utilization of ‘Potato Bombs’ (Papa Bomba). See, for instance, Robert J. Bunker, David A. Kuhn, and John P. Sullivan, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #42: Car Bomb in Apaseo el Alto, Guanajuato with Remote Detonation IED (‘Papa Bomba’) Payload.” Small Wars Journal. 7 January 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-42-car-bomb-apaseo-el-alto-guanajuato-remote-detonation-ied.
 Such CAG TTP interactions and exchanges are following similar global patterns taking place between terrorist groups since the 1970s. Additionally, CAG and terrorist TTP interactions have also been more evident over the last three or so decades as more and more older terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, have had to supplement their revenue streams by engaging in organized criminal activities. This has resulted due to reductions of state sponsorship budgets of terrorist proxies related to the former Soviet Union (Russia), Iran, and related entities.
For Additional Reading
Pablo Baisotti, “The Triple Border, a criminal haven.” Small Wars Journal. 12 November 2022.
John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #51: Gunmen Attack Cancún Beach from Jet Skis, Killing Two People.” Small Wars Journal. 16 June 2021.
John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds., Strategic Notes on Third Generation Gangs. Bloomington: Xlibris, 2020.
Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Studies in Gangs and Cartels. New York: Routledge, 2017.
Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #27: Sicarios Use a Jet Ski for Beach Front Targeted Killing in Acapulco.” Small Wars Journal. 2 March 2016.