U.S. bank looked other way to Mexican drug war money laundering, agent says
Wachovia, bought up by Wells Fargo paid fine for money laundering
A former compliance officer with the U.S. bank Wachovia, Martin Woods has seen the Mexican drug war and its illicit money unseen by even the most seasoned observers. Woods started asking questions about billions of dollars pouring into Wachovia accounts in the U.S. from Mexican currency exchanges back in 2006. "I guess what surprised me most was my own naïveté . I aggravated my own employers (by bringing forward evidence of laundering) and also the regulators themselves."
Money laundered in the U.S. in turn flows back into Mexico, where cartels use it to pay underlings, bribe politicians, invest in legitimate businesses and purchase raw product.
The majority of the cash is believed to be drug money, moved without proper documentation from Casa's de Cambio in Mexico to U.S. banks.
"There was no consequence for anyone dealing with that money. Some other compliance officers broke the rules and they kept their jobs. I obeyed all the rules, blew the whistle and lost my job," Woods says.
This is a side of the Mexican drug war that few people see. Ever since Mexican President Felipe Calderon used his nation's military against the drug cartels, an estimated body count has soared past 50,000 people dead.
Public beheadings have become commonplace and the cartels have brazenly gunned down unarmed civilians in public. Financial analysts, then say there is no exaggeration in accusing bankers of laundering blood money for international assassins.
"The whole point of being a drug dealer is money," Heather Lowe, a Washington-based lawyer with Global Financial Integrity says. "Identifying and stopping that money flow is crucial."
The U.N. Organization on Drugs and Crime estimates that illegal narcotics represent the world's third-biggest export, after oil and the arms trade, worth more than $300 billion annually.
"You have these horrendous crimes being committed, people being shot 10, 20 or 30 at a time," Walter MacKay, a former Canadian police officer who has trained Mexican security forces says. "This dirty money washing through economies just exacerbates everything," he told Al Jazeera.
Illicit drug sales in the United States generate annual revenues between $18 billion and $39 billion, according to the U.S. Justice Department's Federal Bureau of Investigation. The money in turn flows back into Mexico, where cartels use it to pay underlings, bribe politicians, invest in legitimate businesses and purchase raw product.
Most tragically, the "war on drugs" doesn't seem likely to end anytime soon. Many analysts believe the military solution isn't working as violence is increasing. Some policy experts and forensic accountants believe tracking money earned by cartels, along with waging a PR campaign to tackle the demand side of the equation in the U.S., is the best in a series of bad options.
"In order to weaken organized crime, it is far safer and more effective in the long run to erode its financial base," Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas program of the International Relations Centre in Mexico City says.
Currency exchange houses, like the ones used by Wachovia, are probably the most common way for cartels to launder funds. Traffickers normally "contract with money brokers to use their networks of bank accounts and business connections to structure large sums for transport across the border"; former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told a gathering at Woodrow Wilson Center said.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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