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ARGENTINA | 24-06-2024 16:59

Security minister travels to Paraguay as Argentina hunts for missing five-year-old Loan Danilo Peña

The Security minister will travel to the neighbouring country on Tuesday. The detainees will be charged with human trafficking. Loan Danilo Peña, aged 5, was last seen on Thursday 13 in the town of 9 de Julio, Corrientes.

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich will travel to Paraguay on Tuesday (June 25) as Argentina steps up its search for a young child who went missing in Corrientes Province more than 10 days ago.

Bullrich, who was due to attend a Organisation of American States (OAS) meeting in Paraguay, will meet with local police authorities during her visit. 

The trip comes as fears over the whereabouts and safety of five-year-old Loan Danilo Peña intensify. 

The youngster was last seen on Thursday, June 13, close to 9 de Julio, near the district of Gota, Corrientes. 

Loan had travelled out to the countryside with three adults and three other children, who then lost sight of him. 

A large search operation failed to turn up any sign of Loan.

Investigators are now probing rumours he may have been abducted and trafficked across the border into Paraguay.

“It is one hypothesis that the child is there,” stated Bullrich on Monday.

Paraguayan authorities played down reports the child had crossed over into their territory. 

"Until today, we have not received any material evidence that the boy passed here," Nimio Cardozo, the head of Paraguay's anti-kidnapping department, told Cadena3.

Late Monday night it emerged that Bullrich had sent a message to all staff at her portfolio requesting that they not speak publicly about the case.

Judicial authorities in Argentina are focused on the human-trafficking angle but are still working under the hypothesis that the child got lost in a nearby orange grove and got separated from the main group.

Three adults – his uncle and a couple – have been charged with abandonment and were arrested last week.

Four others – a municipal official, her husband, a former naval officer and a local police chief – have also been detained as part of the investigation.

 

Disappearance and details

Before disappearing on June 13, Loan had been to the home of his 87-year-old paternal grandmother Catalina, in the town of 9 de Julio, where he had lunch with his family.

Among those in attendance were his uncle Bernardino Antonio Benítez and another couple who were friends of the family, Daniel Oscar ‘Fierrito’ Ramírez and Mónica del Carmen Millapi. 

All three have been detained by order of the judge overseeing the case.

After lunch, the child left the home with Benítez, Ramírez and Millapi and some of his cousins, according to prosecutors, travelling in the direction of an orange grove a few miles away. The boy’s father did not realise they had left the property.

The trio of adults later realised that Loan wasn’t with them and called for assistance.

On June 21, three more people were arrested: María Victoria Caillava, a friend of Loan’s grandmother and state employee at the 9 de Julio government; Caillava’s husband, former Navy captain Carlos Guido Pérez; and local police chief Walter Maciel.

According to a report by the Noticias Argentinas news agency, Pérez attempted suicide at the police station where he isbeing detained on Monday.

Sources of the case have stated that Pérez tried to take his own life and asked to testify as part of a plea bargain.

“If I’m going down, I’m not going down on my own,” the detainee allegedly said according to sources close to the investigation. 

Prosecutors investigating Peña’s disappearance will charge those detained with human-trafficking and the case will be referred to the federal courts, according to judicial sources.

Searches of properties of the detained have turned up items including guns, bullets.

 

‘We can’t give up’

Corrientes Province Governor Gustavo Valdés held a press conference On Monday, at which he reiterated that a huge search effort had failed to turn up any sign of the child.

“We believe we should already be talking of a possible trafficking case, to investigate where the minor is and to continue working jointly,” he underlined, backing Bullrich’s theory.

“We won’t take this lying down, and we will continue to investigate to get to the truth, and to know what happened to this missing child,” said Valdés, who said that drones, night-vision cameras, planes and paragliders had been deployed as part of “the biggest” search “in the province’s recent history.”

“We will make all our resources available … we can’t give up,” he added. “We will remain at the disposal of the courts, both provincial and federal.”

Investigators say that Pérez and Caillava visited a flat in Resistencia, Chaco Province, one after Loan’s disappearance, staying there from June 14 to 15.

A weapon and plenty of ammunition were also found at the location during searches by police.

As informed by local publication Diario Norte, Pérez and Caillava used the building’s garage to park a Ford Ka vehicle there overnight. Searches of the vehicle turned up traces of the missing child’s DNA.

 

– TIMES/PERFIL

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