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Mexican drug lords invest in Dubai

A Mexican businessman, accused of smuggling chemical precursors for methamphetamine production, exploited the weak laws of the United Arab Emirates to consolidate his business
Mexican drug lords invest in Dubai
Dubai aerial shot - Photo: Jumana El Heloueh/REUTERS
12/06/2018
15:25
Newsroom
Periodismo de Investigación
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The luxurious city of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has transformed in recent years in the lair of international tycoons who have amassed their wealth through criminal activities, penalized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Together with nuclear material smugglers, armed conflicts sponsors, money launderers, and financial terrorists, we also have Mexican Hassein Eduardo Figueroa Gómez, a businessman from Jalisco who, together with his father, Ezio benjamín Figueroa Vázquez, was identified as a drug trafficking leader by the Kingpin Law in 2012.

The report Sandcastles - Tracing Sanctions Evasion through Dubai's Luxury Real Estate Market, prepared by private company ADSC, located in Washington (and to which EL UNIVERSAL had access to) informs that Figueroa Gómez and Figueroa Vázquez were accused by the United States of smuggling tonnes of chemical precursors from Sub-Saharan Europe and Africa to Mexico and sell them to drug cartels for methamphetamine production. 

Ezio Benjamín Figueroa Vázquez was arrested in Mexico in 2011 yet Hassein Eduardo Figueroa Gómez is still at large. Despite all this, the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) states that Hassein “seems to have been using Dubai as a base of operations to conduct his trade activities” through transactions worth, at least, USD$ 4.34 million in luxury assets.

According to the report, all of Figueroa Gómez 's companies remained “active for years after their designation” as a leader of drug trafficking by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, managed by two partners, Rodrigo Romero Mena and Leopoldo Ochoa Juraez or Juárez – the latter murdered in Mexico 2012.

Due to its weak legislation framework, above all in real estate, “Dubai has offered a road toward the international financial system for illicit actors and illicit funds,” states the document published today in several countries.

Evading Detection

For the researcher who coordinated the report – who shall remain anonymous – it's possible that Figueroa Gómez and other partners “are operating in Dubai and in other legislations where their presence or participation is less expected, which allows them to evade detection.”

While the Mexican Government hasn't focused in the Middle East, the report states “the Figueroa case could work as a starting point,” thus it recommends identifying the connections and, in the case of Dubai, establish a cooperation link with the UAE.

In the report's chapter on Mexico, it is detailed that Figueroa Gómez, accused in the U.S. for drug trafficking and conspiracy to launder money, has at least three properties in Dubai with an estimated value of USD$ 1.1 million, USD$ 2.57 million, and USD$ 667 million – the most expensive belongs to a penthouse. Figueroa Gómez also has at least seven companies, three with an address in the UAE and four in Cyprus which hadn't been investigated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, unlike the 16 companies based in Jalisco and Panama through which Figueroa Gómez and his father were identified by the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Law).

The companies based in the United Arab Emirates focus on trade, investment, and sale of glass products: Mexico Lindo Trading (incorporated in 2006), Maestro Investment, Sona Valley (2008), and Diamonds (2008), which means they were incorporated before they were penalized by the United States, and operational between 2017 and 2016.

In the case of Cyprus, Figueroa Gómez was also the owner and operator of companies, incorporated as Ergonas Trading Limited, Forcata Holdings Limited Río Timto Ltd, and Greenfield Studio Limited, which is still operational although it could be dissolved due to its current inactivity. The totality of its sharethe s is property of the Mexican businessman, who is the main shareholder in most of the other companies.

General Trade

The niches of the four companies is general trade, investment, construction, and real estate; the investigation points out that the pattern of these corporations is similar to that founded in the United Arab Emirates companies, since they were “incorporated before the designation of Figeroa Gómez in April 2012; however, they continued operating several years later.”

The report concludes that Figueroa Gómez “seems to have done multiple trading operations of companies in Dubai and has invested approximately USD$ 4.34 million in properties. All the companies – three in the UEA and four in Cyprus – continued to be included in the corresponding corporate records after his designation in the U.S. At least one remains active today.”

In the seven companies appear two trade main partners: Rodrigo Romero Mena and Leopoldo Ochoa Juraez or Juárez. The second, linked to three out of the seven companies, was murdered in 2012, aged 36, in our country and was linked to Mexican drug cartels.

Both were joint owners or associate directors of all companies together with Figeroa Gómez and their share percentage was similar. Romero Mena is a shareholder in six companies and the director of a firm located in Canada, incorporated in 2016. He also has a penthouse in Dubai.

Dubai, the largest city of the United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf, is chosen by multimillionaires from all corners of the world to settle in or to invest in, as it is a “particularly favorable destination” for illict funds, mainly in real estate, which has lenient supervision controls.

The report states that while authorities have launched measures to stop criminal activities, the response of the UAE has been “limited.” “The weakness of the regulation system is capable of strengthening and enabling a variety of illicit global actors.”

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