Mexico’s 76,000 Ton Iron Seizure Fraction of Knights Templar Exports

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Authorities in Mexico have intercepted a ship carrying almost 76,000 tons of iron ore likely linked to the Knights Templar, a load that is dwarfed by the scale of the illegal trade controlled by this ailing criminal group.

Michoacan Security Commissioner Alfredo Castillo announced that the ship carrying the 75,800 tons of iron ore had departed from the Michoacan port of Lazaro Cardenas before being stopped at Manzanillo port in neighboring Colima state on April 30, reported EFE. Authorities had reportedly received an anonymous tip-off about the iron load.

Castillo said the license carried by the export company contained false information regarding the origin of the iron, since no extraction was underway at the mining site indicated on the form, reported Excelsior. The company will have 30 days to provide the necessary documents proving the legality of the shipment.

According to EFE, the ship, named “Jian Hua,” was destined for Asia. Proceso, meanwhile, reported that neither the destination of the iron ore nor the owner of the ship had been identified.

Over 220,000 tons of illicitly extracted iron belonging to the Knights Templar has been seized in Michoacan and Guerrero so far in 2014, reported EFE.

InSight Crime Analysis

Although links to the Knights Templar have not been confirmed, it is likely that the criminal group — which controls various steps in the extraction and exportation process for China-bound iron in Michoacan state — was responsible for this most recent shipment, and that the ship was indeed headed to Asia. In March, an even larger iron ore shipment was seized in Lazaro Cardenas, along with foreign machinery. In that instance, six Chinese nationals were arrested.

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This latest seizure represents a small amount of the total iron the Knights Templar likely export each year. In 2013, Mexico’s iron and steel industry lost $1.3 billion to criminal groups. Iron shipments from Mexico to China quadrupled to 4.6 million tons between 2008 and the first half of 2013 — a period that encompasses the emergence and growth of the Knights in Michoacan. Nearly half of this iron now leaves from Lazaro Cardenas, a Knights stronghold.

As the apparently falsified documentation in this case indicates, corruption is a major factor facilitating the Knights’ illicit activities. The mayor of Lazaro Cardenas was recently arrested for ties with the group. This discovery comes despite the recent killings of top leaders, suggesting there is much work ahead yet if the government is going to completely dismantle the group.

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