03/19/2007

Mexico City: $206 million in U.S. currency seized in drug raid

By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times

MEXICO CITY — Mexican law-enforcement authorities yesterday seized more than $206 million in U.S. currency during a raid on the headquarters of a suspected methamphetamine gang in a home in an upscale suburb of Mexico City.

Rafael Laveaga, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, described the seizure which included more than two tons of mostly $100 bills as the largest cash seizure in Mexican history. Two of seven persons arrested at the home were identified as Chinese nationals, Mr. Laveaga said, adding that the raid "hinted at the vast scope of an illegal drug trade that links Mexico to Asia."

Mexican authorities said the arrests were the culmination of an undercover investigation that began in December when authorities seized 20 tons of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamines. The seizure occurred at the Mexican port of Lazaro Cardenas on the Pacific coast.

Mr. Laveaga said Mexican drug traffickers have become a key component in both the wholesale and retail trade in methamphetamines throughout the United States as a result of successful efforts by U.S. authorities to place tighter controls on the sale of the chemicals used to produce methamphetamines.

Mexico's attorney general's office said the December seizure in Lazaro Cardenas led authorities to a chemical company, identified as Unimed Pharm Chem, which is based in the city of Toluca, about 50 miles west of Mexico City.

"The resulting investigation showed that this company illegally imported pseudoephedrine acetate from India," the attorney general's office said. "These chemicals are used to illegally produce methamphetamines."

The raid occurred in the suburb of Lomas de Chapultepec, where some of the city's wealthiest residents and members of the diplomatic corps live.

Mr. Laveaga said authorities found the cash hidden inside walls, suitcases, stuffed inside drawers and in closets and that it took investigators several hours to count it. He said the seizure was five times the amount confiscated in all of 2006 by Mexican authorities in anti-narcotic and money-laundering operations.

Also seized by authorities, he said, were six Mercedes-Benz vehicles and two other cars along with seven firearms, 200,000 euros and machinery used to make tablets.

The raid, seizure and resulting arrests is the first major victory for newly elected Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who promised during his campaign to crack down on drug cartels. He has sent thousands of Mexican military personnel and police to battle drug smugglers after he assumed office Dec. 1 and has ordered the extradition of several drug kingpins to the United States, including Osiel Cardenas, boss of the powerful Gulf cartel.

The U.S. Justice Department recently reported that Mexican methamphetamine producers were muscling in on the burgeoning U.S. market as police crack down on American meth labs.

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