Sebastián Marset: Thousands hunt for alleged drug trafficker

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An aerial view of a house searched by anti-narcotics police during an operation to try to arrest Uruguayan Sebastian Marset in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, taken on July 30, 2023.Image source, Getty Images

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Police in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, searched several luxury properties but Sebastián Marset managed to escape

By Vanessa Buschschlüter

BBC News

More than 2,250 police officers have been deployed in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz as part of an international manhunt for a suspected drug smuggler.

Sebastián Marset, 32, is accused of trafficking tonnes of cocaine from South America to Europe.

He is wanted by police in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and the US.

Sebastián Marset, a Uruguayan national, has been on the run from police since 2022.

Police tracked him and his family down to a luxurious home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's most populous city and the country's economic centre on Saturday but he managed to elude capture.

Police Commander Yumor Justo Condori said Mr Marset's bodyguards had taken a police officer hostage who was trying to detain him. The officer was later released.

Mr Marset is believed to have fled by car along with his wife and their three children to neighbouring Cochabamba province.

Thousands of officers have been deployed to catch him and eight properties in Santa Cruz were searched on Sunday, Bolivian officials say. Officers found 17 rifles, a pistol and bulletproof vests.

Sebastián Marset is accused of leading an international drugs cartel, known as PCU or First Uruguayan Cartel, which smuggles cocaine from Paraguay through Uruguay to Europe.

He has a long history of evading capture. Mr Marset was first jailed in 2013 for smuggling marijuana and weapons into Uruguay.

After his release in 2018, he appears to have relocated to neighbouring Paraguay from where he is thought to have travelled extensively using false identities.

In 2021, he was briefly arrested at Dubai airport, in the United Arab Emirates, for using a forged Paraguayan passport but released after he obtained official documents from the Uruguayan authorities.

An investigation is under way in Uruguay to determine how he came to be issued with a new passport when he was already under investigation in multiple countries.

His name hit the news again in August 2022 when Colombian President Gustavo Petro named Mr Marset as the man suspected of ordering the killing of Marcelo Pecci, a Paraguayan anti-crime prosecutor killed while on honeymoon in Colombia.

Pecci played a key part in "A Ultranza Py,", the biggest operation against cocaine trafficking and money laundering in Paraguay's history. Prosecutors say he was killed in revenge for dismantling the lucrative criminal business.

Bolivian authorities say Sebastián Marset entered their country shortly after he had been named as the man suspected of paying Marcelo Pecci's killers.

Sebastián Marset reportedly led a luxury lifestyle in Bolivia, spending vast amounts of money buying property and even a second-division football club.

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