$41m in suspected drug funds seized
WASHINGTON - US and Colombian authorities seized $41 million in suspected drug money over the past two weeks - one of the largest seizures in the history of the countries’ joint efforts, law enforcement officials said yesterday.
The first seizure came Sept. 9 at a Colombian port where inspectors found $11.2 million in two containers. The bundles of $20 bills were tightly bound in plastic wrapping and hidden in shipments of ammonium sulfate, material commonly used for fertilizer. Using that seizure as a lead, officials went on to find nearly $30 million more at Colombian and Mexican ports over a nine-day period.
These seizures are significant because they show the sophistication of international organized criminals, which is “a warning sign for all of us,’’ said John Morton, the head of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The way these criminals exploited lawful trade between Colombia and Mexico is no easy task, Morton said. ICE headed the investigation that led to the initial seizure.
No arrests had been made as of yesterday, Morton said. Officials are operating under a strong suspicion that the money belonged to drug dealers, he said. Morton said proceeds such as these from drug sales are typically used to purchase weapons, mansions, and fancy cars, and to buy off local officials.
The ports in Buenaventura, Colombia, and Manzanillo, Mexico - where inspectors found the cash - are considered key points on a smuggling route for sending cocaine and cash between Colombia and Mexico, officials said.