Organized crime began diversifying from the drug trade several years ago, but in the state of Tamaulipas that diversification has taken a new focus: criminals are now targeting the importation of vehicles and machinery.
Customs offices at the border cities of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa have been infiltrated by drug cartels where they complicate the import process and seize products under false pretences, particularly boats, cars, ATVs, tractors and tractor trailers.
Sources consulted by the newspaper Reforma said that starting a few months ago staff from the the federal taxation administration (SAT) began to tolerate or collaborate with the criminals.
At first, the modus operandi consisted of charging additional — and illegal — fees to the importers, but then the criminals simply began seizing the imports.
Even if the documentation is properly presented and all the required fees are paid, SAT officials cover up for the criminals, giving them the opportunity to “negotiate” with the importers.
If import agencies reject the negotiations, the criminals threaten to destroy the goods if no favorable resolution — for them — is reached.
“This is outright extortion,” said one of Reforma’s sources. “If an individual or company has already paid taxes on the import of vehicles or equipment, they still have to make extra payments to the corruption structure.”
At least one well known Nuevo Laredo-based import agency has halted its operations pertaining to vehicles and equipment after having had a “serious confrontation” with a criminal gang.