Ghost companies, the key of the Mexican cartels for money laundering

Santiago Pérez Nieto, Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (Photo: Crisanta Espinosa Aguilar /CUARTOSCURO.COM)
Santiago Pérez Nieto, Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (Photo: Crisanta Espinosa Aguilar /CUARTOSCURO.COM)

Ghost companies or façade are key elements in the operation of the drug cartels in Mexico. Drug trafficking groups turn to these figures to launder hundreds of millions of dollars. The process consists of an intricate system of national and international transfers, through companies that operate in virtual offices or private houses.

Court records reveal that, in the cases reviewed, criminals use figureheads to create such companies "dedicated" to real estate, jewelry and electronics sales and even consulting services, same that carry out million dollar transactions that do not match your tax returns before the treasury.

Criminals used money laundering from housewives, students, and bank employees to fictitious websites to disguise their criminal activity as a legitimate business..

Precisely, as an investigative report from The universal, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP) discovered in 2014 the most articulated network and that involves one of the highest amounts for which records are kept.

Intelligence work carried out by the FIU found that four shell companies received and transferred resources for 3 thousand 523.2 million pesos in less than two years. Those companies, in turn, were connected to three others that were investigated in other preliminary inquiries at the then Attorney General's Office (PGR) for laundering resources for the Sinaloa Cartel.

Angélica Ortiz Dorantes, a specialist in the prevention of money laundering, explained to that newspaper that it is easier for criminal groups to make a paper company, where they only need to go with a notary and then open a bank account, instead of installing a front business with which they would have to adapt a premises, hire staff and pay taxes.

"Moving the money in a front business (restaurant or car wash) would take longer, while with a paper company you can start moving large sums of money quickly through the financial system and even to another country"He explained.

Insight Crime data show that each year the Mexican cartels introduce between 19 and 29 billion dollars to the country proceeds from the sale of drugs in the United States.

Companies linked to the Sinaloa Cartel

In 2014, the FIU detected that four companies - incorporated on the same date in 2012, with the same address and a legal representative who turned out to be a figurehead - sent and received resources without any justification in order to hide the origin and destination of the resources.

The universal He quotes a document from the intelligence unit that reads: “The four (Flunky, Flutnex, Marbole and Cuarzo Blanco y Asociados) generate operations within the national financial system and abroad, with significant movements and a multiplicity of beneficiaries that they do not have a commercial relationship with their suppliers ”.

However, despite the high volume of resources, they had declared to the tax authority income much lower than that actually collected and in the reported home there was no movement of personnel, merchandise or infrastructure that suggested its operation.

“(These) particularities incline us to establish that they are shell companies, that is, apparently legal companies that cover up illegal activities like a screen and that generally exist on paper; in addition to being established in virtual offices ”, the document concludes.

Thus we have that, between July 2012 and May 2014 -according to the report-, they received 3 thousand 928 transfers via SPEl for 2 thousand 103.5 million pesos and made 5 thousand 175 transfers to send one thousand 419.7 million pesos. Also, in just one year they transferred 605.8 million pesos and 3.5 million dollars to China, the United States, Switzerland, Spain and Korea.

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On August 20, 2014, the FIU ordered to block the bank accounts of the four companies. A year later they were identified by the Tax Administration Service (SAT) as taxpayers who carry out non-existent operations and finally in August 2017 the PGR ordered to insure their accounts. These companies carried out operations with other companies that are also investigated in different preliminary investigations. Flunky made transfers to Zocle Mercantil, immersed in investigation for laundering money for the Sinaloa Cartel.

Flutnex received resources from Comercializadora Piter, declared by SAT as a shell company and investigated by the PGR, and sent resources to Nacer Peninsular del Sureste, also related to a money laundering network at the service of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán and Vicente 'Vicentillo' Zambada, leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel
Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán and Vicente 'Vicentillo' Zambada, leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel

Housewives and university students to launder capital

In August 2015, Omar Ayón Díaz, a criminal linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, was detained in Colombia and extradited to the United States, where they claimed him to face various charges of money laundering and criminal association. Ayón Díaz was also investigated in Mexico for being part of a money laundering network at the service of said criminal organization originating in northern Mexico. On October 30, 2014, the then PGR declared the assurance of its bank accounts.

Along with Ayón, the attorney general's office secured the accounts of some 30 other people. They included dozens of women from Sinaloa, who lived in the most marginalized areas of the capital Culiacán. Immediately they they denounced that they had been deceived. The women, mostly housewives and unemployed, They accused that they had been offered 500 pesos to open an account. The money that was deposited was withdrawn with the supervision of a person who accompanied them and kept the same.

With Ayón's arrest, it would be known that these bank accounts were part of a money laundering network at the service of that cartel. In pleading guilty in the United States, Ayón admitted that he laundered $ 24.5 million, profits from the sale of cocaine. At his exchange centers in Tijuana, he received the dollars in cash and then transferred them to bank accounts.

In the investigation that the PGR was following in Mexico, Cote Corporación Operativa Técnica Empresarial, a company incorporated in Puebla that is dedicated to construction and that in 2015 was designated by the SAT as a taxpayer that simulates operations, was also investigated. One of his partners is Said Nacer Ramos, brother of Eduardo Nacer Ramos, who also appears on the diligence of the attorney general's office. Eduardo is also the legal representative of the civil association Nacer Peninsular del Sureste, part of another laundering network investigated by the PGR and which received deposits from Flutnex, according to information gathered by the UIF.

On the other hand, an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in collaboration with the UIF and the FGR managed to dismantle a money laundering network based in Tijuana, Baja California, and San Diego, California, which laundered $ 19 million. .

The organization led by Manuel Reynoso García recruited university students between 18 and 23 years old in Tijuana, who were transferred to San Diego to open bank accounts. Other members of the organization traveled to various cities in the United States to collect the profits from narcotics.

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Then, the cash was deposited in bank accounts opened by the students, but controlled by the organization. The funds were electronically transferred from these accounts to a series of shell companies based in Mexico, and the money was then transferred to the Sinaloa Cartel's leading names.

Precisely, in 2009, the then PGR investigated some twenty people who between February and November of that year made at least 15 trips to transport 2.5 million dollars in cash abroad, using documents issued by 10 companies that carried out non-existent operations.

The investigation by the Attorney General's Office began after they were alerted by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on October 6, 2009 about an international network that transported cash to serve the Beltrán Leyva. In the report sent to the now Attorney General of the Republic (FGR), it was pointed out that The DEA office in Panama and authorities in that country were investigating the drug trafficking and money laundering activities of a group of Mexicans, Panamanians and Colombians who left with money from Mexico City's International Airport to Tocumen, in Panama.

Following this alert, Mexican police arrested three people in November 2009 who were trying to transport dollars with letters issued by various companies. One of the detainees revealed the modus operandi:

"At customs they gave him a form that he had to fill out with his name and that of the Factor Elite, Exclusivas and Open Trade companies," the investigation read. In the judicial file, it is narrated that policemen went to Factor Elite's home in the Las Palmas neighborhood, in Puebla, and there was no sign of any company.

AND The universal recalls that one more international network that was also dismantled is the one commanded by the Colombian Gustavo Eugenio Echeverri Ortiz, one of the leaders of the Valle del Norte Cartel, who established his operations center in Mexico City.

In the preliminary investigation initiated by the PGR it indicates that Colombians arrived in Mexico in 2003 and negotiated to use part of the drug trafficking routes used by the Sinaloa Cartel to bring drugs to Europe, without competing with Mexicans for the US market.

To bring the drug to Spain, created with the help of their Mexican partners various firms supposedly dedicated to the export of rubber fenders for boats; However, these were only a front, since drug traffickers used defenses to hide cocaine there and thus export it without raising suspicion.

The universal He specified that the information presented in the report comes from previous proceedings, criminal cases, amparos and documents of the San Diego Court, referring to a dozen cases. Most of those involved were sentenced with lesser penalties, while other investigations remain open.


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Sam Conley

Sam Conley is new to online journalism but she is keen to learn. She is an MBA from a reputed university. She brings together relevant news pieces from various industries. She loves to share quick news updates. She is always in search of interesting news so that she can share them as well to Sunriseread's readers who could enjoy them with their morning coffee.

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