Money Laundering and the Global Drug Trade Fueled by Capitalist Elites29/10/2010 11:03
by Tom Burghardt
When investigative journalist Daniel Hopsicker broke the story four years ago that a DC-9 (N900SA) “registered to a company which once used as its address the hangar of Huffman Aviation, the flight school at the Venice, Florida Airport which trained both terrorist pilots who crashed planes into the World Trade Center, was caught in Campeche by the Mexican military … carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine destined for the U.S.,” it elicited a collective yawn from corporate media. And when authorities searched the plane and found its cargo consisted solely of 128 identical black suitcases marked “private,” packed with cocaine valued at more than $100 million, the silence was deafening. But now a Bloomberg Markets magazine report, “Wachovia’s Drug Habit,” reveals that drug traffickers bought that plane, and perhaps fifty others, “with laundered funds they transferred through two of the biggest banks in the U.S.,” Wachovia and Bank of America. The Justice Department charge sheet against the bank tells us that between 2003 and 2008, Wachovia handled $378.4 billion for Mexican currency exchanges, “the largest violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, an anti-money-laundering law, in U.S. history.” “A sum” Bloomberg averred, equal to one-third of Mexico’s current gross domestic product.” Since 2006, some 22,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence. Thousands more have been wounded, countless others “disappeared,” torture and illegal imprisonment is rampant. In a frightening echo of the Reagan administration’s anti-communist jihad in Central America during the 1980s, the Bush and now, Obama administration has poured fuel on the fire with some $1.4 billion in “War on Drugs” funding under Plan Mérida. Much of that “aid” is destined to purchase military equipment for repressive police, specialized paramilitary units and the Mexican Army. There is also evidence of direct U.S. military involvement. In June, The Narco News Bulletin reported that “a special operations task force under the command of the Pentagon is currently in place south of the border providing advice and training to the Mexican Army in gathering intelligence, infiltrating and, as needed, taking direct action against narco-trafficking organizations.” One former U.S. government official told investigative journalist Bill Conroy, “‘Black operations have been going on forever. The recent [mainstream] media reports about those operations under the Obama administration make it sound like it’s a big scoop, but it’s nothing new for those who understand how things really work’.” But, as numerous investigations by American and Mexican journalists have revealed, there is strong evidence of collusion between the Mexican Army and the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels. A former Juarez police commander told NPR in May that “the intention of the army is to try and get rid of the Juarez cartel, so that [Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman] Chapo’s [Sinaloa] cartel is the strongest.” The cosy relations among the world’s biggest banks, drug trafficking organizations and the U.S. military-intelligence apparatus is not however, a new phenomenon. What is different today is the scale and sheer scope of the corruption involved. As Michel Chossudovsky points out, “This trade can only prosper if the main actors involved in narcotics have “political friends in high places.” As legal and illegal undertakings are increasingly intertwined, the dividing line between “businesspeople” and criminals is blurred. In turn, the relationship among criminals, politicians and members of the intelligence establishment has tainted the structures of the state and the role of its institutions, including the military.” (The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century, Montreal:Global Research, 2010, pp. 195-196) While the Bloomberg story should cast new light on highly-profitable links amongst major financial institutions and narcotrafficking organizations in what may be protected drug rackets green-lighted by corrupt officials, media silence, particularly by outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and theFinancial Times, threaten to propel what should be an international scandal into a one-off news item scheduled for a trip down the memory hole. “Cocaine One” If, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman claims “the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist,” then perhaps too, drug cartels work their “market magic” with their own “hidden fist” or, as the Russians like to say akrysha, a web of protectors–and facilitators–drawn from business, finance, organized crime and the secret world of intelligence. Dubbed “Cocaine One” by Hopsicker, the DC-9 was curious for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact that “one of the chief shareholders” of a dodgy outfit called SkyWay Aircraft “is a private investment bank in Dallas which also raised funds for a Mexican industrialist with reported ties to a Cali and Juarez Cartel narcotics trafficker.” More curious still, the airline kitted-out its fleet with distinctive colors and a seal “designed to impersonate planes from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security.” And when he learned that “SkyWay’s genesis can be traced to In-Q-Tel Inc., a secretive, Arlington, Va., investment group owned, operated, and financed out of the black box budget of the Central Intelligence Agency,” well you can bet corporate media ran themselves ragged investigating that! To top it off, when another drug plane crash landed in the Yucatan Peninsula eighteen months later and broke apart, a Gulfstream II business jet (N987SA) that spilled “4 tons of cocaine across a muddy field,” Hopsicker reported that it had originated from the same network and used the same source for its financing, the “Casa de Cambio Puebla SA, a country-wide network of currency exchanges.” And to make matters even more intriguing from a parapolitical perspective, after searching through FAA records Hopsickerdiscovered that the Gulfstream II business jet “was owned by a secretive Midwestern media baron and Republican fund-raiser, who had a business partner who, incredibly, owned the otherAmerican drug plane, the DC-9, recently busted in Mexico.” In fact, as Bloomberg investigative journalist Michael Smith learned years later, these were the same planes and samecurrency exchange which Hopsicker reported back in 2007 traffickers had used to purchase drug jets with funds laundered through Wachovia. “One customer that Wachovia took on in 2004 was Casa de Cambio Puebla SA,” Smith wrote. The Puebla, Mexico currency exchange was the brainchild of Pedro Alatorre, a “businessman” who “had created front companies for cartels.” Alatorre, and 70 others connected to his network, were seized in 2007 by Mexican law enforcement officials. Authorities discovered that the accused drug money launderer and airline broker for the cartels controlled 23 accounts at the Wachovia Bank branch in Miami and that it held some $11 million, subsequently frozen by U.S. investigators. In 2008, a Miami federal grand jury indicted Alatorre, now awaiting trial in Mexico along with three other executives, charging them with drug trafficking and money laundering, accusing the company of using “shell firms to launder $720 million through U.S. banks.” The Justice Department is currently seeking Alatorre’s extradition from Mexico. According to Bloomberg, “Puebla executives used the stolen identities of 74 people to launder money through Wachovia accounts.” Jose Luis Marmolejo, the former head of the Mexican attorney general’s financial crimes unit told Smith, “Wachovia handled all the transfers, and they never reported any as suspicious.” Some $300,000 was transferred by Wachovia to a Bank of America branch in Oklahoma City. With cash in hand Bloomberg reports, traffickers “used the funds to buy the DC-9 through Oklahoma City aircraft broker U.S. Aircraft Titles Inc.” When queried by Smith about the sale, “U.S. Aircraft Titles President Sue White declined to comment.” Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor who handled the Wachovia case said in a press release that “Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations.” Yet, as Hopsicker wrote nearly three years ago, “the politically-explosive implications of the scandal may explain why American officials have been reluctant to move against, or even name, the true owners of the planes and basically ‘turned a blind eye’ to the American involvement exposed by the drug trafficking seizures.” As of this writing, no Americans have been criminally charged in the cash-for drug planes banking conspiracy.
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