Authorities in Colombia dismantled several international money laundering organizations that employed human drug mules who swallowed dirty money for transport from Mexico, providing further details on the relationship between criminal organizations in both countries.
In joint operations carried out between Colombia’s National Police and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) in the cities of Bogotá, Medellín, Bucaramanga, Manizales, Pereira and Neiva, authorities arrested 27 suspected members of four transnational money launder organizations for transporting money from Mexico into the South American nation.
The money was disguised in latex capsules and digested, Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office announced December 6.
Each of the latex capsules had at least five $100 dollar bills inside. On average, one individual can consume between 80 and 120 capsules, transporting close to $40,000, according to authorities. Larger individuals can carry up to $75,000 in their bodies.
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Authorities say that Mexican cartels used the so-called “mules” to send money to Colombian criminal groups they’re working with to traffic cocaine.
The alleged leader of one of the networks, Wílmar Hernández Sánchez, alias “Pinocho” or “Profe,” was among those arrested in the operation. Authorities say he’s made some 250 trips between Colombia and Mexico.
The head of one of the other dismantled networks — who made 180 trips to Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, El Salvador, Peru and the United States to move more than 10 billion pesos (around $3 million) since 2015 — recruited informal workers or unemployed individuals to travel to other countries to transport up to $10,000 back to Colombia in each trip, the limit allowed by Colombia’s National Directorate of Taxes and Customs (DIAN).
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The recent bust in Colombia further demonstrates the links between Mexico’s drug cartels and Colombia’s criminal groups, and suggests that these groups are looking for new ways to transport their criminal proceeds as cocaine production soars to levels never seen before in the country’s history.
Criminal groups in Colombia and Mexico have had a strategic drug trafficking partnership for decades. But after the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) in 2016 followed by the gradual decline of the Urabeños, the Mexicans have had to forge new alliances.
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As a result, Mexican criminal groups are establishing more of a presence in the country to inspect cocaine production and ensure quality. In 2016, the son of jailed Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo,” visited the city of Medellín protected by the Oficina de Envigado crime group in part to oversee two cocaine labs in the city’s rural outskirts.
The bust also suggests an evolution in techniques used to transport drug proceeds. Criminal groups throughout Latin America have long employed mules who swallow drugs like cocaine for transport into other countries. The region’s criminal groups may now be using the same technique to transport their dirty cash back home.