No perfume can hide the smell of dirty cash

No matter how much to try to disguise it, dirty money still smells

The Manhattan Federal Court in New York has sentenced an Indian-American to 20 years behind bars for his part in laundering millions for Mexican drug cartels. Vikram Datta, 51, owned a perfume distribution business with retail outlets on the US/Mexico border. Once again, Mexican casas de cambio, or money exchange officers, were crucial to the laundering process.

Datta’s business sold large quantities of perfume to Mexican buyers, so his bank account records already contained cross border transaction information. Cross border transactions would not, therefore have been unusual at first in his accounts.

The scam involved shipping perfume across the border and receiving payment in cash made from drug sales in the US. Evidence showed that Mexican ‘casas de cambio’ –money exchange offices – on the border exchanged the dollars generated from drug sales to Mexican pesos. The dollars were later shipped back across the border to the US and used to buy the perfume at Datta’s business in Laredo, Texas.

The US Drug Enforcement Agency, hot on the heels of the ‘casas de cambio’ found deposits worth more than US$25m in bank accounts controlled by Datta and his criminal colleagues. His repeated failure to report cash transactions worth more than US$10,000 should also have raised suspicions at his bank.

Datta reportedly laundered cash for the Sinaloa cartel, a notorious Mexican trafficking organisation that is fuelling a civil war in  Mexico through its attempts to control trafficking.  Sinaloa’s rivals for the top spot is the Zeta Cartel which controls much of Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

As per the map, Sinaloa’s area is yellow, Zeta’s is blue. Other significant cartels are the Red – Tijuana/Arellano Felix, Orange – Beltran Leyva,  Green – La Familia/Michoacan, Brown – Carillo Fuentes, Cyan – Gulf Cartel/New Federation. Map courtesy of STRATFOR.


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