Mexico Going from Bad to Worse in Prosecuting Money Laundering

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Government statistics in Mexico demonstrate how already weak efforts to combat money laundering appear to be getting worse under the current administration, suggesting there is a lack of political will and resources to tackle a key component of organized crime.

According to documents obtained by El Universal from Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (PGR), 33 money-laundering groups were dismantled and roughly $300 million at today’s exchange rate (taking into account the variable rates over the period) was seized in pesos and dollars between 2001 and 2014.

Of these 33 groups, 23 were dismantled during the administration of Felipe Calderon (2006-2012), seven during the term of Vicente Fox (2000-2006), and just three under the current administration of Enrique Peña Nieto.

During the first full two years of Peña Nieto’s presidency (2013-2014), the amount of laundered money seized dropped in comparison with the same period under Calderon (2007-2008), falling from a total of just over $90 million to around $13 million.

Angelica Ortiz Dorantes — an expert on money-laundering prevention — explained the drop in money seizures under Peña Nieto does not necessarily mean a lack of government action, but instead may be signs greater controls and preventative measures implemented with a 2013 anti-money laundering law are having success.

However, national security expert Gerardo Rodriguez Sanchez Lara called the PGR’s figures “laughable” given the tools at the disposal of investigators, saying the numbers represented “a very low percentage” of the estimated size of the criminal economy. According to El Universal, the Secretariat of Property and Public Credit (SHCP) has estimated $10 billion is laundered annually in Mexico, although some US officials have put this number as high as $29 billion.

Sanchez said the figures showed the failings of the Mexican government in combating money laundering, which he attributed to the weak capacity of the SHCP’s Financial Intelligence Unit. Another obstacle, Angelica Ortiz added, is that anti-money laundering investigators lack the means for filtering the masses of information they receive.

InSight Crime Analysis

Money laundering is an essential activity for organized crime groups in Mexico and throughout the region, and criminal networks have proven creative in discovering new ways to legalize the massive amounts of cash coming their way, making combating the crime an uphill task.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering

Previously, the Mexican government has taken some steps to combat money laundering and enforce legislation, passing a law that came into force in 2013 that limited cash transactions and required reporting of suspicious financial activity.

Yet, as the PGR’s owns figures suggest, progress towards combating money laundering has been slow, with fewer prosecutions and money seized since the passing of legislation in 2013. As InSight Crime noted at the time the law came into force, it is often easier to pass laws than to prosecute money laundering on a large scale, which requires levels of political will and resources Mexico has yet to demonstrate it is willing to dedicate to the problem.

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