Mexico dismantles 33 money laundering gangs in 14 years

The biggest blow came during the administration of Felipe Calderón, when 23 gangs were dismantled, compared to seven under Fox and three during the current administration.
Zorayda Gallegos y Silber Meza
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In the last 14 years 33 criminal organizations related to money laundering in Mexico have been dismantled, and a total of 4.6 billion pesos (US$299.7 million) have been seized, according to documents of the Attorney General's Office (PGR) obtained by EL UNIVERSAL. 

Gerardo Rodríguez Sánchez Lara, academic coordinator of the Center for Studies on Impunity and Justice at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla the amount is "laughable" considering the tools that the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP) and the PGR have to detect illegal movements in the financial system. 

"It's a very low percentage compared to the economy of organized crime," Rodríguez said. 

Mexico's Ministry of Finance estimates that 10 billion dollars are laundered in Mexico every year, according to the study "Money laundering in Mexico: achievements and remaining challenges" written by the Senate's Belisario Domínguez Institute. However Kenneth Blanco, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, says that criminal organizations launder 29 billion dollars every year in the country, nearly three times the estimates of Mexico's government. 

Breakdown by administrations 

During the presidency of Vicente Fox Quesada US$131 million and 272 million pesos were seized, compared with US$208.2 million and 245.6 million pesos million under Felipe Calderón. 

However, during the first two years of president Enrique Peña Nieto seizures dropped to 22.6 million pesos and US$11.6 million in 2013 and 2014. 

For Sánchez Lara, these results show that in the first two years of the current administration, the fight against organized decreased, which led to the strengthening of organizations such as the New Generation Jalisco Cartel. 

The PGR said that in the last 14 years 33 criminal groups involved in money laundering have been dismantled. 

The biggest blow came during the administration of Felipe Calderón, when 23 gangs were dismantled, compared to seven under Fox and three during the current administration. 

Some of the 53 money launderers arrested under Fox worked for cartels such as those led by the Arellano Félix, Carrillo Fuentes, Amezcua, Palma-Guxmán Loera, Osiel Cárdenas, Díaz Parada and Valencia families. 

Ivonne Soto Vega, aka "La Pantera" was arrested on July 18, 2001 in Tijuana, Baja California. She was conisdered the main money launderer of the Arrelano Félix brothers. Also Juan José Quintero Payán, one of the main operators of the Carrillo Fuentes cartel, was arrested in Guadalajara, Jalisco on October 30, 1999. 

On November 18, 2009, during the administration of Felipe Calderón, three Mexicans were arrested on their way to Panama to launder money with letters issued by by shell companies created to simulate a lawful activity. 

The next day another man returning from Panama after delivering money in that country was also arrested. He was identified as Francisco Javier Piñón Meléndez. Two days later, on November 20, four Panamanians were captured, among them Ramón Ricardo Martinelli, a former congressman and cousin of the then president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, who were also taking money to Panama City. 

A total of US$409,740 were seized in those operations, that led to the detection of a network that took dollars of the Beltrán Leyva cartel from Mexico to Panama with the support of two federal policemen that worked at Mexico City's international airport. Twelve people were arrested and four were condemned. 

Another organization dismantled under Felipe Calderón was led by Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese citizen naturalized Mexican. In March 2007 more than 205 million dollars were seized from his house in Lomas de Chapultepec along with arms and drugs. 

Although not all organizations dismembered during the administration of Fellipe Calderón belonged to a cartel, most of them worked for Los Zetas, the Gulf, Sinaloa and Juárez cartels, the Beltrán Leyva brothers and La Familia Michoacana. 

During the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto, Alfonso Zamudio Quijada, an operator of Los Zetas, was arrested in Monclova, Coahuila on May 9, 2013. He was carrying a suitcase with an AK-47, 55 cartridges, cocaine and US$300,000, with which he tried to bribe authorities.

Angélica Ortiz Dorantes, specialist in money laundering prevention, says that these criminal organizations are not necessarily related with large cartels. She quoted as an example the former leader of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), Elba Esther Gordillo, prosecuted for this crime even though it has not been proven that she belonged to a criminal organization. 

She added the fall in seizures does not necessarily mean a poor performance by authorities. On the contrary, she thinks that the approval of the anti-money laundering law in 2013 strengthened controls and could have lead to a decrease in this crime. 

However after analyzing the data obtained by EL UNIVERSAL, Gerardo Rodríguez Sánchez, national security expert, concluded that the Mexican government is failing to attack one of the pillars of organized crime. 

One of the reasons is that the human and technological capabilities of the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Finance are still too small to detect money laundering microstrategies in the financial system. 

Also, "the state governments have not done their part," he added.

Angélica Ortiz, author of the book "El delito del lavado de dinero" (The crime of money laundering), considers that money laundering prevention strategies in Mexico generate an information overload that makes the system less efficient than it could be.


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