Mexican drug cartels have turned to shell companies to launder millions of dollars, through an intricate scheme that involves national and international money transactions.
Legal documents indicate that criminals use straw men to create these companies, including real state companies, jewelry stores, and consulting services; all these companies made transactions that do not match their tax returns. Furthermore, the money laundering network uses housewives, students, and bank employees.
The Financial Intelligence Unit discovered a more complex money-laundering network in 2014. After it launched an investigation, it found that four shell companies received and transferred MXN 3,523.2 million in less than two years. However, these companies were linked with another three companies that were being investigated for working for the Sinaloa Cartel.
Insight Crime estimates that Mexican drug cartels introduce between USD 19,000 million and USD 29,000 million to the country each year, as a result of the drug trade in the U.S.
The information contained in this article was obtained from previous investigations, criminal cases, amparos, and documents issued by a court in San Diego. The majority of those involved in the money laundering networks were given short prison sentences, while other investigations are still open.
Companies linked to the Sinaloa Cartel
In 2014, the Financial Intelligence Unit found four companies that sent and received resources to hide the origin and destiny of the resources. The four companies were created on the same day in 2012, they all had the same address, and the same legal representative, who turned out to be a straw man.
A document issued by the UIF indicates that “the four companies [Flunky, Flutnex, Marbole, and Cuarzo Blanco y Asociados] generate operations inside the financial bank system and to foreign countries, with significative movement and several beneficiaries that don’t have a commercial relationship with the suppliers.”
Despite a large number of resources, the companies declared a lower income. There were no employees, merchandise, and infrastructure that suggest these were real companies.
The document explains that between July 2012 and May 2014, the companies received 3,928 transfers through the SPEI system for MXN 2,103.5 million. They transferred MXN 1,419.7 million through 5,174 operations.
Moreover, these shell companies transferred MXN 605.8 million and USD 3.5 million to China, United States, Switzerland, Spain, and Korea.
On August 20, 2014, the UIF blocked several bank accounts owned by these four companies. A year later, the SAT reported these companies carried out nonexistent operations. By August 2017, the PGR seized the accounts.
These companies carried out operations with other companies that are also being investigated for their linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, such as Zocle Mercantil.
Housewives were part of the money-laundering scheme
In August 2015, Omar Ayón Díaz, a criminal linked to the Sinaloa Cartel was arrested in Colombia and extradited to the U.S., where he faced money laundering charges and criminal association.
In Mexico, Ayón Díaz was investigated for his involvement in a money-laundering network at the service of the Sinaloa Cartel. In October 2014, the PGR seized his bank accounts along with accounts owned by dozens of women who lived in Sinaloa, in marginalized areas of Culiacán, who later said they had been deceived.
The women were mostly unemployed housewives, who said they were offered MXN 500 to open a bank account. The money that was transferred to them and delivered to a person that accompanied them to the bank.
After Ayón was arrested, it was revealed that these accounts were part of a money-laundering network used by the drug cartel. When he pled guilty, Ayón said he laundered USD 24.5 million, which were obtained through cocaine trafficking.
In the meantime, Mexican authorities were investigating Cote Corporación Operativa Técnica Empresarial, a company created in Puebla, which was accused of simulating operations by the SAT. One of the stakeholders is Said Nacer Ramos, whose sibling Eduardo Nacer Ramos is also part of the investigation. Moreover, Eduardo Nacer is a legal representative for NGO Nacer Peninsular del Sureste, which has been linked to another Money laundering network, and that received money from Flutnex.
Transporting the money
In 2009, the now-extinct PGR investigated a dozen of people who traveled at least 15 times to transport USD 2.5 million in cash to other countries, using documents issued by operations who carried out nonexistent operations.
The Mexican government started investigating the case in October 2009, after the DEA warned about an international network that transported cash for the Beltrán Leyva family.
In a document released by Mexican authorities, it is indicated that the DEA office in Panama and Panama authorities were investigating drug trafficking operations and a money-laundering network that involved people from Mexico, Panama, and Colombia, who traveled from Mexico City to Panama.
More shell companies
An international network led Gustavo Eugenio Echeverri Ortiz, a leader of the Valle del Norte Cartel, was dismantled. He operated from Mexico City.
An investigation launched by Mexican authorities suggested that the Colombians arrived in the country in 2003 and negotiated with the Sinaloa Cartel to use some of their trafficking routes to transport drugs to Europe, without contending for the control of the U.S. market with the Mexican cartel.
To transport drugs to Spain, they created several companies along with their Mexican partners; nevertheless, these shell companies used to hide the drugs.
An investigation launched by the FBI, in collaboration with the UIF and the FGR, resulted in the disarticulation of a money-laundering network based in Tijuana, Baja California, and San Diego, California, which laundered USD 19 million.
The criminal organization was led by Manuel Reynoso García. It recruited university students in Tijuana, who then traveled to San Diego to open bank accounts.
Other members traveled to different U.S. cities to collect the money generated by drug trafficking. The cash was deposited into the accounts opened by the students. The resources were later transferred to shell companies based in Mexico and then to straw men who worked for the Sinaloa Cartel.