Mexico’s Supreme Court has declared it unconstitutional to freeze the bank accounts of organized crime suspects without sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, a seeming attempt to push back against the US Treasury Department’s recent blacklisting of two Mexican celebrities.
The provision allowed financial authorities to freeze the bank accounts of individuals or companies alleged to have links with organized crime. However, the Supreme Court ruled that this practice violates defendants’ rights to be presumed innocent and to be guaranteed a fair trial.
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The ruling follows the August designation of Mexican professional soccer star Rafael Márquez Álvarez and famous Mexican singer Julio César Álvarez Montelongo to the US Treasury Department’s “Kingpin List.” The Treasury Department said the two men “acted as front persons” and “held assets” for a Mexican drug trafficking organization.
Shortly after the US blacklisting, the celebrities’ bank accounts in Mexico were frozen. A judge ruled to unfreeze several of Márquez Álvarez’s accounts on September 28. Álvarez Montelongo will likely see his accounts unfrozen as a result of the Supreme Court’s latest ruling.
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The Supreme Court’s ruling highlights longstanding concerns about the impact of Kingpin List designations, and may be an attempt to partially shield Mexican citizens from some of their effects.
The US government says the sanctions are intended “to deny significant foreign narcotics traffickers, their related businesses, and their operatives access to the US financial system and all trade and transactions involving US companies and individuals.”
However, as was seen in the case of Márquez Álvarez and Álvarez Montelongo, Kingpin List designations can have impacts outside the United States as well. The US sanctions are often followed by asset seizures and the freezing of suspects’ bank accounts in foreign countries where they may not have been charged or convicted of any crime.
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Critics say that Kingpin List designations often wrongfully target individuals or entities that haven’t committed crimes. Indeed, earlier this year the United States was forced to remove more than 20 businesses and individuals from the list in part due to what one person formerly facing the sanctions called a “lack of rigor” in the Treasury Department’s evidence gathering.