Authorities in the United States and Colombia announced the dismantling of an international money laundering ring, whose methods suggest they may have provided the service for a diverse range of international drug trafficking groups.
Following a three-year operation, US authorities rounded up American and Dominican suspects in the United States, and Colombians in the cities of Cali and Medellin. Colombian police announced there had been 21 arrests in total, although according to the US authorities there were 19.
The gang bought up prepaid phone cards in the United States with drug money, then shipped them to Colombia and sold them on, reported Semana. The Colombian suspects also allegedly used legitimate businesses in Cali shopping centers as a front for making money orders and financial transactions. The gang is thought to have laundered 25 million dollars since the operation began in 2006.
Over the course of the operation, titled “Oceano,” police arrested 43 US, Dominican and Colombian citizens, seized US $6 million, at least 13 kilos of heroin, 32 kilos of cocaine, 21 kilos of marijuana, and seven vehicles.
A New York district court has charged all of the suspects with drug trafficking and money laundering, and called for the extradition of the Colombians.
According to El Pais, Cali’s major newspaper, officials reported the operation may have had links to Mexican drug cartels.
The variety of drugs uncovered over the course of the operation raises the possibility that funds were being laundered for a number of different drug trafficking organizations.
The majority of heroin sold in the United States is believed to originate in Colombia, though Mexican groups are also known to have a share of the trade. In Colombia, heroin trafficking is generally controlled by 28 ‘mini cartels,’ each made up of as few as 15 members, but who may have ties to larger organizations.
The cocaine trade in Colombia, on the other hand, is dominated the country’s principal criminal groups — the Rastrojos, the Urabeños and the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Police also confiscated marijuana, which is rarely trafficked out of Colombia and, tends to be sold on the domestic market.
The method used by the gang is a variation on a classic money laundering technique. Other operations use profits to purchase hi-tech or luxury goods, which are shipped to Colombia and resold at a discount price.