02 December 2009

Fat gang story busted

Last month, I wrote about the widely reported story of a gang in Peru that allegedly killed people in order to extract their fat, which was then sold to buyers to make cosmetics. I questioned the veracity of story even if the media did not as too many things just didn't add up.

Reuters has now reported that the police in charge of the investigation had misled the public. From BBC News
Peru human fat killings 'a lie'
By Dan Collyns
BBC News, Lima

Peru's police chief has suspended a top investigator for saying he had caught a gang who were murdering people to sell their fat.

Last month, top organised crime investigator Felix Murga said police had arrested four suspects who confessed to murdering up to 60 people.

He said they were selling their fat for thousands of dollars a litre.

But the macabre tale now appears to be nothing more than a tall story - or a big fat lie.


In an extraordinary press conference, police showed two bottles of what they said was human fat and a photo of a decapitated head.

Mr Murga told journalists how four suspects had confessed to gruesome murders reviving an Andean legend about the Pishtacos - mythical killers who murdered people on lonely roads to collect their fat.

But two weeks later a complete lack of evidence showed the police account to be more fiction that fact.

As a result Peru's chief of police, Miguel Hidalgo, announced Mr Murga would be put on indefinite leave from his job for sullying the reputation of his unit.

Initial doubts were compounded when police from the region where the crimes were alleged to have taken place said they knew nothing about a gang of murderers killing people for their fat.

They were only able to corroborate one of the dozens of alleged disappearances in a region where drug-trafficking and violence is rife.

Mr Murga and the head of the anti-kidnapping unit had also claimed the fat was sold for thousands of dollars in the European black market supplying the cosmetics industry, but could not confirm any sales.

Medical experts dismissed this theory, saying human fat had no monetary value and injecting it from one person to another would be potentially life-threatening.

Some anthropologists say the police's story deliberately played on an old Peruvian myth to explain crimes which the police had failed to investigate fully.

Other observers say this story was just one of many embellished or invented news stories used as a smokescreen which are intended to distract the general public from the real issues facing Peru.

What a surprise. . Surely media outlets should question the plausibility of a story before releasing it. On the other hand, never believe everything you read in the media, no matter how respectable, including the BBC if it doesn't add up.

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