Chinese shadow bankers helped Mexican cartel launder drug money, US says

US prosecutors charge two dozen people over alleged $50m money laundering scheme.

Prosecutors in the United States have charged two dozen people over an alleged money laundering scheme involving Chinese shadow bankers and Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel.

Chinese underground money exchanges helped the cartel launder $50m in drug trafficking proceeds generated from the import of large amounts of fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine between 2019 and 2023, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement on Tuesday.

The California-based network then allegedly made the proceeds generated in the US accessible to cartel members in Mexico and elsewhere, the DOJ said.

Drug traffickers partnered with underground money exchanges to take advantage of the high demand for US dollars from Chinese citizens who use informal channels to move funds out of China, which bars annual transfers above $50,000, prosecutors said.

“The seller of US dollars provides identifying information for a bank account in China with instructions for the investor to deposit Chinese currency (renminbi) in that account. Once the owner of the account sees the deposit, an equivalent amount of US dollars is released to the buyer in the United States,” the DOJ said.

The 24 defendants face charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine and money laundering offences.

Law enforcement officials seized $5m in narcotics proceeds, 137kg of cocaine, 42kg of methamphetamine, and 3,000 ecstasy pills during the investigation, according to the DOJ.

“Relentless greed, the pursuit of money, is what drives the Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for the worst drug crisis in American history,” Drug Enforcement Administrator Anne Milgram said.

“Laundering drug money gives the Sinaloa cartel the means to produce and import their deadly poison into the United States,” Milgram added.

“DEA’s top operational priority is to save American lives by defeating the cartels and those that support their operations.”

China’s Ministry of Public Security said in a social media post on Wednesday it had also arrested a person suspected of involvement in “drug-related money laundering” following a US tip-off. “This case is a recent successful case of Sino-US anti-drug cooperation,” the ministry said on the social media platform Weibo.

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