Guatemalan security forces break up money-laundering ring tied to ‘El Chapo’
By Dialogo January 05, 2014
.” Guatemalan security forces recently arrested 21 people for allegedly operating a multi-million dollar money-laundering ring linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, a Mexican transnational criminal organization.
Police and prosecutors, operating with logistical support from the Guatemalan Army, arrested the suspects during dozens of raids in Guatemala City, San Marcos, Huehuetenango and Quetzaltenango. Security forces captured 16 men and five women who are suspected of laundering about $46 million (USD) in drug profits on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel, which is led by fugitive kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
The arrests were announced by Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and Minister of the Interior Mauricio López Bonilla during a news conference on Dec. 3, 2013.
‘El Chapo’ under suspicion
Guatemalan authorities believe the money-laundering suspects were working on behalf of El Chapo. The Sinaloa Cartel operates in Guatemala, Ecuador, and Honduras. The transnational criminal organization often forms alliances with local gangs to engage in drug trafficking, money laundering, and other illicit activities.
“We believe that the (laundered) money is from a Mexican cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel," Paz y Paz said at the press conference. A Mexican national also charged in the case remains at large. Mexican security officials cooperated in the investigation, Guatemalan authorities said. Mexican security officials cooperated in the investigation, according to Guatemalan authorities.
The Sinaloa Cartel: a global threat
The Sinaloa Cartel is the largest and most powerful of the Mexican transnational criminal organizations. In addition to its operations in Central America, the Sinaloa Cartel also traffics drugs to Europe, Africa, and Asia – 50 countries in all, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Sinaloa Cartel is estimated to have as many as 100,000 operatives, including Central American gang members who are allied with El Chapo’s group.
The money-laundering ring allegedly used a Guatemalan produce exporting company, Comercializadora de Frutas y Verduras Internacional, SA, to launder drug cash through phony purchases of non-existent shipments of fruits and vegetables.
The company allegedly made large payments to a Mexican company called Aguacates y Frutas Tecario SA de CV. Guatemalan banking and tax officials became suspicious when the Guatemalan company reported large money transfers and unusual profits from transactions involving avocados in 2009 and 2010, authorities said.
The owner of the Guatemalan company and his two sons were among those arrested. Other members of the ring would travel to Mexico to withdraw the laundered funds from banks in which they had been deposited. Smaller amounts of cash were laundered through banks in the U.S. and China, officials said.
A victory for the Attorney General
Much of the credit for that anti-crime effort has been given to Attorney General Paz y Paz, the nation’s first female attorney general. Since taking office in 2010, Paz y Paz has established an international reputation for aggressive prosecutions of organized crime, which has helped crime rates in the country to decrease by a reported nine percent. She has also pushed for a number of prosecutions for human rights abuses.
During Paz y Paz’s term Guatemala has established a National Institute of Forensic Sciences, with modern equipment to analyze DNA and other evidence to assist in investigations of sexual crimes and murder.
Paz y Paz has also created a unit of prosecutors which investigates cases of violence against women. The unit operates around the block, seven days a week. She also advocated successfully for the creation of courts which are open 24 hours a day for some crimes, such as domestic violence.
Paz y Paz also created an evaluation system for prosecutors, to help them improve and to hold them accountable.
In 2012, Forbes magazine named Paz y Paz one of the "five most powerful women changing the world." She was also considered a major contender for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, although the prize ultimately was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The importance of cooperation
It is important for security forces in Guatemala and elsewhere to attack the financial structures of transnational criminal organizations, such as their money laundering schemes, said Jesus Aranda Terrones, member of the Collective for the Analysis of Security with Democracy (CASEDE) in Mexico City.
“The governments of Guatemala and Mexico are cooperating to detect criminal activities and to attack the financial structures of these groups,” the security analyst said. Security forces from the U.S. are also cooperating with Guatemala, Mexico, and other Latin American countries in the fight against transnational criminal activities.
Continued cooperation is crucial if security forces are to succeed in dismantling the financial structures of organized crime groups like the Sinaloa Cartel.
“The Sinaloa Cartel and other organized crime groups don’t buy a house to launder money, they invest in large real estate operations, like a resort development,” Aranda Terrones said. “These groups invest as entrepreneurs.”
Julieta Pelcastre contributed to this article.
It's incredible that this character can move around internationally and nobody is able to capture him. Where is international cooperation?