By Dave Sherwood
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chilean prosecutors are indicting at least 10 people over their alleged links to a human trafficking ring that smuggled hundreds of Chinese migrants into Chile after charging them $5,000 apiece for tourist visas, local media reported on Saturday.
Chile’s foreign ministry confirmed in a statement there had been an investigation into a human trafficking ring operating in 2016 and 2017 but gave no further details.
The trafficking ring included several local and provincial politicians, as well as other government employees, crime prevention deputy secretary Katherine Martorell told local daily La Tercera.
“This is the largest migrant trafficking network that has ever existed in our country,” Martorell told the newspaper.
In all, 381 Chinese citizens were smuggled into the country illegally by the group in 2016 and 2017, according to the reports.
Martorell said some of the migrants were conned, while others had been abandoned or otherwise put in danger. Some had since departed for other countries in Latin America, she said, while others were in the process of seeking permanent residency.
Chile, a relatively isolated Pacific coast nation, has increasingly become a top destination for both legal and illegal migration from poverty-stricken nations in Latin America and further afield.
The nation has the highest gross domestic product per capita in South America, low levels of corruption and the lowest murder rate, according to figures from the World Bank and InSight Crime, a foundation that analyses organized crime.
Immigration into Chile has increased sixfold in less than 30 years, from 114,500 in the 1992 census, to 746,465 last year.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)