Three Members Of International Organization Of Money Launderers For The Largest Drug Cartels Arrested
Defendants Used Chinese Banking System and Trade-Based Money Laundering Scheme to Launder Over $5 Billion
Kelly T. Currie, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, James Hunt, Special Agent-in-Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Field Division (DEA), and Thomas E. Bishop, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, New York Field Division (IRS), announced today the unsealing of an indictment in Brooklyn federal court charging three alleged leaders of an international money laundering organization for their role in brokering a series of financial transactions designed to conceal the source of illegal narcotics trafficking. The defendants allegedly used the Chinese and Hong Kong financial system and the shipment of counterfeit goods around the world to launder over $5 billion for drug cartels based in Mexico and Colombia.
“As alleged, the defendants and their co-conspirators laundered billions of dollars in illegal narcotics proceeds on behalf of several of the largest drug cartels in the world. The organization used a variety of methods to conceal the source of the drug proceeds in an operation that stretched around the globe,” stated Acting United States Attorney Currie. Mr. Currie thanked the Department of Justice, Office of International Affairs; DEA Dallas Field Office; New York City Police Department; New York State Police; DEA Beijing Country Office; DEA Hong Kong Country Office; IRS Beijing Country Office; IRS Hong Kong Country Office; the Financial Investigations Group of the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department; and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.
“These indictments are a result of a lengthy and extensive investigation that tracked the profit of billions of dollars made by drug traffickers through five continents. Allegedly, the three defendants provided the financial lifeline for drug cartels to operate and push illegal drugs into the United States,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent-in-Charge Hunt.
“Attacking the proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs is a proven technique for dismantling drug organizations of all sizes,” said IRS Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Bishop. “Collaborations between IRS-Criminal Investigation and the DEA are successful, as our joint investigations bring together highly skilled drug investigators with highly skilled financial investigators in the fight against global narcotics trafficking organizations. Accordingly, we are pleased to partner with the DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in this trade-based money laundering investigation.”
As alleged in the indictment, the investigation determined that from approximately January 1, 2004 to the present, members of an international organization of money launderers and drug trafficking organizations conspired to carryout trade-based money laundering activities in China, Colombia, the United States, Spain, Ecuador, Venezuela, and elsewhere. The group was led by Colombian nationals based in Guangzhou, China (the Guangzhou Enterprise). The Guangzhou Enterprise laundered money through bank accounts in Hong Kong and China on behalf of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico and Colombia to fund purchases of counterfeit goods in China, which were then shipped to Colombia and elsewhere for resale.
The Enterprise typically paid Colombian pesos to the drug traffickers in exchange for their U.S. dollar proceeds of drug trafficking at a heavily discounted exchange rate, which reflected the risks incurred by the money brokers. The Enterprise then located Colombian or other South American customers – usually businesses – that needed U.S. dollars to pay for imported goods or services. They then sold the U.S. dollars to those customers, who used the money to purchase goods and services in China for resale.
The investigation revealed that the Guangzhou Enterprise, led by Christian Duque-Aristizabal, Jhon Hincapie-Ramirez and Henry Poveda, among others, was responsible for laundering over $5 billion in narcotics proceeds.
Duque-Aristizabal was arrested in Panama City, Panama, on July 13, 2015, and Hincapie-Ramirez was arrested in Cali, Colombia, on August 13, 2015. The government is currently seeking their extradition to the United States. Poveda was arrested in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 23, 2015. Poveda was arraigned earlier today before the Hon. Carol B. Amon at the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by the Office’s International Narcotics and Money Laundering Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Amir H. Toossi, Tyler J. Smith, and Ameet B. Kabrawala are in charge of the prosecution.
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 15-Cr-81