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Feds break up U.S.-Colombia money laundering ring

Feds break up U.S.-Colombia money laundering ring

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Thursday that agents had broken up an elaborate drug and money laundering ring in the U.S. and Colombia, with two arrests in the case occurring in Florida.

   'Operation Plata Sucia,' (Dirty Money) resulted in the arrest of 26 defendants who were charged with money-laundering in Bogota and Cali, Colombia, New York, New Jersey and Florida, a statement from the DEA said. More than $10 million in drug proceeds and $6.5 million in cocaine, heroin, and marijuana were seized as part of the operation. Seizure warrants were also issued for bank accounts throughout the United States used to further the money-laundering process.

   Of the 26 defendants arrested, seven were arrested in Bogota, Colombia, seven were arrested in Cali, Colombia, two were arrested in Florida and 10 were arrested in New York.

   According to an indictment in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the defendants were accused of participating in the Colombian Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE), an informal currency exchange system in which one or more 'peso brokers' serve as middle-men between narcotics traffickers who control massive quantities of drug money in the United States and Colombian businesspeople seeking to purchase cheap U.S. dollars outside the highly-regulated Colombian banking system.

   The indictment said the BMPE system involves three steps.

   First, narcotics traffickers sell their drug dollars in the United States to peso brokers in Colombia in exchange for Colombian pesos.

   Second, the peso brokers use criminal associates in the United States to collect the drug money and deposit the illicit funds into the United States banking system.

   Finally, the peso brokers sell the drug dollars to Colombian businesspeople seeking cheap dollars outside the legitimate Colombian banking system to purchase goods to be imported back to Colombia.

   The court papers said all the transactions are verbal and have no paper trail. As a result the BMPE has become one of the primary methods through which Colombian narcotics traffickers launder their illicit funds.

   U.S. officials from the Treasury Department and Customs and Border Protection have warned U.S. freight forwarders and customs brokers to remain alert for export and import transactions that could be funded with laundered money.

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