The US has requested the extradition of several Colombian emerald barons on drug trafficking charges.

The decision to press charges based on drug trafficking has raised eyebrows in some quarters since trade-based financial crime is said by some experts to be widespread in Colombia’s emerald trade.

One reason given for the decision to press drug trafficking charges is that dealing in narcotics is a crime committed in the US whereas, in this case, the Colombian authorities would be in a better position to bring charges based on trade-based financial crime.

Multinational operation

This is the first time US authorities have targeted individuals in Colombia’s emerald industry, but it may mark the beginning of a wider clamp down on the trade.

US prosecutors have charged four prominent Colombian emerald magnates alongside a politician with engaging in a multinational cocaine trafficking operation between 2002 and 2015.

The trafficking network allegedly included Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Organised crime

Petrit Baquero, who provided evidence of ties between Colombia’s emerald barons and all manner of organised crime groups in his book, The New Green War, says the trade in precious stones makes it, “very easy to wash money…in many cases drug money.”

The trade “has always been fertile for laundering money because emeralds are expensive and the cost is determined based on what the market is willing to pay,” he concludes.