US accuses Chinese ‘underground bankers’ of laundering $50m in cartel drug money

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The US justice department has accused Chinese “underground bankers” of helping Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel launder more than $50m in drug-trafficking proceeds.

An indictment unsealed in California charged 24 defendants with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine and money-laundering offenses.

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Anne Milgram said a years-long investigation dubbed Operation Fortune Runner had “uncovered a partnership between Sinaloa cartel associates and a Chinese criminal syndicate operating in Los Angeles and China to launder drug money”.

The justice department said the Chinese “underground bankers” had helped the cartel transfer drug profits from the United States to Mexico.

Chinese nationals are barred by that country’s laws from moving more than $50,000 a year out of China, it said, and some individuals seeking to move more than that seek “informal alternatives” to move funds.

“Drug traffickers increasingly have partnered with Chinese underground money exchanges to take advantage of the large demand for US dollars from Chinese nationals,” it said.

The DoJ said 20 of the 24 defendants named in the indictment are to appear in court in Los Angeles in the coming weeks.

Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood Randall said China and Mexico had each arrested one individual in connection with the case.

Randall said China’s actions “build on the commitment made between President Biden and President Xi at the Woodside summit in November 2023 to resume bilateral cooperation to combat global illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking”.

The DoJ said $5m in narcotics proceeds had been seized during the investigation, along with 302lbs (137kg) of cocaine, 92lbs of methamphetamine and 3,000 ecstasy pills.


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