Washington, DC, United States (AHN) – A State Department official’s acknowledgement on Thursday that U.S. law enforcement officials laundered drug cartel money through Mexican banks is renewing concern in Mexico City about foreign influence.
Some Mexican commentators say the U.S. government might be trampling their sovereignty through overly aggressive law enforcement tactics.
“The infiltration by Americans of the Mexican financial system, although according to them it was to investigate the movement of laundered money, has caused great controversy,” an editorial by the Mexican news organization impre.com said.
A commentator in La Cronica de Hoy newspaper wrote, “The impunity with which U.S. agents in this country do as they please is really shocking.”
“So who’s the boss?” the editorial asked.
Mexican media and political officials are comparing the money laundering investigation to Operation Fast and Furious, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives effort to track gun smugglers by allowing them to purchase guns illegally in the United States then carry them across the border into Mexico.
The guns later were traced to dozens of murders, which created outrage among Mexican and U.S. political leaders.
On Thursday, Todd Robinson, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, reportedly admitted in interviews with the Mexican media that U.S. law enforcement agents have infiltrated Mexican banks.
He was quoted saying the U.S. government “will use every tool we can to combat organized crime and narcotics trafficking.”
Robinson made the statement during a visit to Mexico’s National Institute of Criminal Sciences, where he was reviewing a U.S.-funded educational program to combat drug cartels.
The statement from Robinson appears to confirm a New York Times report on Monday about the money laundering operation.
Money laundering refers to criminals who conceal money they obtain illegally by transferring it through banks or other legitimate commercial institutions.
The New York Times story said undercover American narcotics agents laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in illegal drug sale income to identify how crime cartels conceal their money and spend it.
Typically, Drug Enforcement Administration agents deposited drug money into accounts designated by cartel leaders.
The DEA would allow cartel agents to continue money laundering and other illegal activity for months or years to gather information on how they operate.
DEA officials said they tried to avoid assisting in the money laundering even while they secretly allowed it to continue.
One DEA official told the New York Times it was common for American agents to pick up two or three loads of Mexican drug money each week.
The investigation helped the DEA track the reach of the drug cartels into Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
In some cases, DEA agents and their Mexican colleagues would pose as smugglers for the cartels by carrying drug money on government flights to the United States, where it would be deposited into bank accounts and wired to companies that provide goods and services to the gangs.
Other times, undercover DEA agents would pick up drug sale money in the United States, deposit it in American bank accounts, then wire it to cartel accounts in Mexico.
The DEA tried to recover the money by later seizing it during arrests or through fees undercover agents charged drug traffickers.
Last year, the DEA claims to have seized about $1 billion in drug cartel cash and assets.
Drug trafficking is estimated to produce between $18 billion and $39 billion in smuggling operations over the U.S.-Mexico border each year.
Any benefits from the DEA’s money laundering operation in stopping drug trafficking have not been precisely measured or announced.