US cracks Mexican banks' drug links

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The Independent Online
THE BIGGEST drugs money laundering ring in US history has been broken after a three-year operation, investigators in Washington and Los Angeles have announced. The targets of Operation Casablanca are some of Mexico's largest financial institutions, raising tensions once again across the Rio Grande, writes Andrew Marshall in Washington.

Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Attorney General Janet Reno jointly announced the indictments. They said it was the first time that Mexican banks and bank officials were "directly linked to laundering the Cali and Juarez cartels' US drug profits." Cali, a city in Colombia, has been at the heart of cocaine smuggling; Ciudad Juarez is just across the border from El Paso in Texas.

A total of 112 people were arrested, and $35m (pounds 21m) in drugs money was seized as well as two tons of cocaine and four tons of marijuana. Customs officers gathered evidence by "infiltrating the highest levels of this international drug trafficking financial infrastructure," Mr Rubin said.

The Mexican Finance Ministry and Attorney-General's office said that they would "cooperate fully with the US government".

The indictment charges that three banks, and 26 bankers, laundered millions of dollars in drug profits. The three banks charged with laundering were Mexico's second and third largest banks, Bancomer and Banca Serfin, and Banco Confia. The British bank HSBC holds a stake in Serfin, and Confia is owned by Citibank. The Federal Reserve Board also filed civil actions against Banco Nacional de Mexico, Banco Internacional and Banco Santander of Spain.