Riot police stand guard at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru
Riot police stand guard at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru as residents carry out a rally for peace in memory of dozens who died in recent anti-government protests. Photo by: AFP/Ivan Flores

Peruvian police officers carried out raids on numerous properties across the country Wednesday, resulting in the arrest of 18 individuals as part of an investigation into illegal arms trafficking and its connection to last year's murder of an Ecuadorian presidential candidate.

During the "mega-operation," around 700 officers conducted raids on houses and offices in four districts of the capital Lima, as well as in the Tumbes, Cajamarca, and Piura regions along Peru's border with Ecuador, said Jorge Chavez, who heads the Peru prosecutor's office against organized crime.

Chavez said that the operation was backed by the United States embassy and aimed at companies allegedly importing weapons from the U.S. and Turkey. These companies hired low-income individuals to obtain licenses and buy the guns.

These weapons were later given to criminal gangs including those responsible for killing Ecuadorean presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio.

Villavicencio was assassinated on Aug. 9 while he was entering a vehicle after finishing a campaign rally at the Colegio Anderson in the northern part of Quito. The gunmen shot a bullet in his head. He was rushed to the hospital immediately but doctors pronounced him dead.

This incident took place just 11 days ahead of the presidential elections.

Chavez said on America Television that his office has intelligence that "one of the weapons that came from these companies was likely used in the assassination of the former presidential candidate," Reuters reported.

The crime rate in Peru's capital rose to 160,200 cases in 2022, while 120,350 cases were reported in 2021, as per Travel Tomorrow. Several different types of crimes were reported in the country, including murder, corruption, and the illegal drug trade.

The United States issued an advisory in 2022 in the wake of the crime, civil unrest, and the possibility of kidnapping in Peru, and urged Americans not to travel to several regions of the Latin American country, including Loreto and Puno.

Peru closed the year 2023 with an inflation rate of 3.24% -- its lowest rate in the last three years, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Information.

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