Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Zetas Laundered Money in Bank of America: FBI

The Mexico-based Zetas drug gang used Bank of America accounts to launder their profits, according to the FBI.

Jose Trevino Morales, a US citizen who is the brother of one of the leaders of the Zetas, was arrested last month, accused of using his race horse business to launder money for the gang. An FBI agent gave a statement to a federal court in June saying that Trevino had personal and business accounts at Bank of America, which he used to clean the Zetas’ profits, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Sums greater than $1.5 million were deposited or withdrawn from the bank in “roughly a dozen” transactions since he opened the accounts in December 2009, says the report.

Trevino, brother of Zetas boss Miguel Angel, known as "Z-40", and Oscar Omar, also a high-ranking member of the group, ran a business which bred race horses in Oklahoma. Federal investigators say that Zetas funds were funneled into the business -- Mexican individuals would purchase horses legally, which would then be transferred to the ownership of Trevino. The purchasers would be paid back using funds from the gang. Some $1 million a month in Zetas money was poured into the purchase of quarter horses over two years, according to the affidavit, coming to more than $4.2 million over four years.

The statement reportedly sets out how Jose Trevino’s income in 2009 stood at $29,000, but the following year his expenses for the horse business were $200,000 per month, reports Bloomberg.

Bank of America is not accused of wrongdoing in the affidavit, according to the WSJ. A spokesperson defended the bank’s anti-laundering procedures to the newspaper, saying that they have robust processes in place to catch illegal activity.

Trevino has pleaded innocent to money laundering charges. In response to the allegations, his lawyer said "If you are going to launder dirty money, there are much easier ways to do it than being involved in the quarter horse industry," reports the WSJ.

Meanwhile, in further evidence of the Zetas’ reach north of the border, 20 individuals were arrested in San Antonio, Texas, accused of smuggling weapons to the group. My San Antonio reports that the defendants are accused of being “straw buyers,” pretending to buy weapons for personal use but then smuggling them south over the border to Mexico.

News Briefs

  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the Venezuelan government’s aid to the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which it says goes beyond fuel shipments to include shielding Syria’s foreign exchange reserves. “Venezuela also is helping Damascus evade Western sanctions by purchasing Syrian energy and conducting trade with two firms, the Commercial Bank of Syria and Sytrol, the state's oil-marketing firm.” Along with the fuel supplies, this has meant a massive jump in trade between the two countries, from some $6 million in 2010 to hundreds of millions of dollars this year. The WSJ says that US lawmakers are working on legislation to sanction firms that do business with blacklisted Syrian companies
  • InSight Crime has a special on organized crime in Nicaragua, whose image as a security model for the region is increasingly coming under question. The first part says that a year on from the murder of Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral in Guatemala, the investigation into his death has uncovered a far-reaching criminal network in Nicaragua, which may involve the much-praised police force. “The Cabral murder case provides a new, more disturbing possible narrative: that Nicaragua has less violence than its neighbors not because it has a more effective police force but because organized crime is a top-down business, controlled by the very authorities who are supposed to be fighting it.” The special also features a report on drug trafficking in the remote Caribbean coast, and an interview with police chief Aminta Granera.
  • US Border Patrol agents shot a Mexican citizen dead close to the Texas border on Saturday. The Border Patrol said that agents encountered a group of people on the US side of the border and detained some, while others began throwing rocks. One agent responded by firing at the group, and another agent saw a person on the Mexican side point a gun at them, and responded by firing over the border. However, the AP quotes a Mexican woman who said she believed her brother, Juan Pablo Perez Soto, had been cutting wood on the Mexican side of the border and that a US agent had crossed the border before shooting him. The Mexican government has criticized the “disproportionate” use of force and called for a thorough investigation.
  • US authorities are offering a reward of $1 million for information leading to the arrest of four newly-named suspects in the 2010 killing of US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Six people have now been charged in connection with the death, which took place when agents surprised a group of bandits who targeted drug smugglers just north of the Arizona border. The confrontation ended in an exchange of fire, which killed Terry. The case was responsible for bringing to light the “Fast and Furious” gun control scandal, reports the LA Times.
  • The cholera outbreak in Cuba appears to be spreading, with the number of confirmed cases in the east of the country jumping from 30 to 85 over the weekend, reports the Miami Herald. There are reports that 15 have died, though the official death toll is three. The disease had been eradicated in Cuba for many decades, but could have spread from Haiti, where many Cuban doctors have gone to work, says the newspaper.
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ warns that the current constitutional crisis in El Salvador, where the national assembly is locked in a struggle with the judiciary over the election of Supreme Court judges, is a “blatant attempt by the FMLN [ruling party] to crush the democratic order.” The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled in June that the elections of some two-thirds of the court’s judges by the assembly had been unconstitutional. The legislature is appealing to the Central American Court of Justice. O’Grady says that, if this body is allowed to decide the case in favor of the assembly, it would give the legislature control over the Supreme Court, destroying judicial independence.
  • Bloggings by Boz comments that Mexico’s PRI party, which won the presidential election last week, seems “genuinely surprised” to be facing criticism for buying votes in the election. James Bosworth says that however much the long-ruling party claims to have moved on from its past, purchasing votes remains natural for them; “Giving voters gifts is part of the populism and clientelism that allowed the party to institutionalize their revolution. It's a basic political-economic transaction that they've done for generations.”
  • The LA Times reports on the election of mysterious candidates to Mexico’s Congress, through deals made within parties promising them seats, although their names never appear on the ballot papers. It says there are a handful of these “influential politicians, super-rich union leaders, their relatives and others who were quietly elected to Congress in last week's vote without lifting a finger to campaign.”
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has again declared himself cancer-free, telling press that "Thanks to God, [health] won't be playing a factor" in the October presidential elections. The WSJ notes that it is not the first time he has said that he is cured, with previous such statements being followed by an announcement of a new cancerous growth.
  • The AP has a report on hair stylists in Port-au-Prince who have been forced to ply their trade on the dusty streets of the Haitian capital since the January 2010 earthquake destroyed the building they worked in.