The tequila industry presents a series of circumstances that make it ideal as a preferred partner in money laundering for criminal groups. It is extremely lucrative, so much so that, for 2019, it had an estimated profit of $ 4.6 billion worldwide and does not stop growing.
Mexico City, June 16 (InSightCrime) .- The revelations that the Jalisco Cartel laundered hundreds of millions of dollars through front companies posing as tequila suppliers, is a new chapter in the long relationship between criminal groups from Mexico and the iconic national liquor.
On June 2, Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) announced that it had frozen nearly 2,000 bank accounts linked to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). At first glance, the impact of this operation was difficult to estimate, since the blocking of bank accounts linked to criminal activities is not uncommon in Mexico.
But here, the true target of the operation was revealed with its name “Blue Agave” , the type of cactus used in the production of tequila. The FIU named 1,770 individuals and 167 firms as part of a complex network set up to launder CJNG criminal proceeds using paper signatures posing as tequila companies.
And reportedly, that network managed to move colossal sums of cash. The FIU reported domestic transactions worth about $ 666 billion, international transfers in the amount of $ 330 million, and $ 137 million in dubious cash transactions made in U.S. dollars.
Although the FIU statement did not reveal which tequila brands were involved, the CJNG and its financial arm, known as “Los Cuinis,” are known to have owned at least one tequila producer. In 2015, the United States Treasury Department included Onze Black, a Jalisco tequila company, for alleged links to the CJNG.
Subsequent investigations revealed that Onze Black was owned by Jessica Oseguera, daughter of CJNG leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho”.
The tequila industry presents a series of circumstances that make it ideal as a preferred partner in money laundering for criminal groups. It is extremely lucrative, so much so that, for 2019, it had an estimated profit of $ 4.6 billion worldwide and it does not stop growing.
80 percent of the production goes to the United States, again a favorite destination for drug traffickers trying to hide their wealth. And the raw material, blue agave, is grown in some of the most dangerous areas in Mexico, leaving producers as ideal targets for extortion and kidnapping.
And the CJNG is not even remotely the first drug cartel with connections to the tequila industry. In 2006, it was discovered that the Arellano Félix cartel used a brand of tequila, 4 Reyes, to launder its drug profits in Mexico and the United States. In 2013, the United States Treasury Department blacklisted several firms, including two tequila companies, belonging to a drug trafficking group known as Los Güeros, according to a press release.
Apart from these direct links with crime, tequila is also an inherent part of the “narcoculture” in Mexico. In February 2020, Alejandrina Guzmán, daughter of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo”, launched the El Chapo 701 tequila brand, as part of a line of products that used the notorious image and name of her father.
The FIU has unveiled what may be by far the largest money-laundering structure discovered to date that uses tequila brands. This is expected to generate greater long-term scrutiny by Mexican and US authorities. But given the way Mexican criminal groups have co-opted most of the country’s exports, from avocados to cars, this may not be enough.
The Mazatlan Post