Citibank `helped move drug cash'

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MEXICAN, US and other judicial authorities had long suspected that Raul Salinas, brother of the former Mexican president Carlos Salinas, had made his multi-million-dollar fortune from drug protection money. But New York's Citibank, only too eager for his business, asked no questions when it handled his money.

That is the substance of an astonishing report issued in Washington yesterday by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the US Congress. Its findings could force congressional hearings on Citibank's role, and are likely to speed a Justice Department investigation into the bank's handling of Salinas's fortune.

Citibank responded that while the GAO report "contains errors of fact and interpretation", it was willing to co-operate in any investigation. The report shows how a man with sufficient funds can evade standard banking procedures aimed at curbing money laundering from drugtrafficking.

From 1992 to 1994 Raul Salinas changed money from pesos to dollars via Citibank's offices in Mexico City and New York. Citibank then transferred it on to other banks around the world, notably in Switzerland, via complex transactions involving shell companies and offshore banks, which disguised the source of the money.

The bank never asked for standard information on the source or on Raul Salinas's background, according to the GAO report, even though Mr Salinas earned only a civil servant's salary from running a state food distribution company.

It was only after he was arrested in 1995 and charged with the murder of a well-known politician that the size of his fortune - estimated at upwards of $250m - and the Citibank link emerged.

Mr Salinas's Citibank adviser then recommended that his wife transfer the funds elsewhere, according to the GAO report. But by then Swiss investigators were on to the case and she was arrested in Geneva in November 1995 while trying to shift the funds.