The tequila industry and some of Mexico’s notorious drug cartels have a criminal association dating back at least 14 years.
The federal government announced this week that the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) had frozen the bank accounts of 1,770 people, 167 businesses and two trust funds linked to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) through a money-laundering network of front companies passing themselves off as vendors of tequila.
Accounts containing a total of US $1.1 billion were frozen after an operation, dubbed “Blue Agave” for the main ingredient in tequila, was carried out by the UIF in cooperation with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
It’s not the first time that criminal groups have made use of Mexico’s most famous tipple to advance their illicit activities – links between the tequila industry and the underworld date back to at least 2006.
That was the year the DEA first discovered a connection between tequila and drug trafficking in Mexico, the newspaper Milenio reported on Thursday.
The criminal organization found to be in cahoots with the tequila industry at the time was the Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Félix organization.
According to a September 2006 report by the United States Department of the Treasury, the tequila company 4 Reyes helped the Tijuana Cartel to launder the money it obtained from distributing drugs in both Mexico and the U.S.
Seven years later, the DEA discovered that shipments of cocaine were being brought into the United States in trucks transporting bottles of tequila. According to a 2013 U.S. Treasury Department report, two tequila companies were in fact front companies for the criminal organization known as Los Güeros.
United States authorities identified four brothers as the chief operators of the drug cartel: Daniel, Esteban, Luis and Miguel Rodríguez Olivera. Daniel and Esteban were both arrested in Mexico and extradited to the United States, where they were jailed on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.
Another link between narcos and tequila was detected in 2015 when the U.S. discovered that the tequila company Onze Black had been set up by Los Cuinis, a drug gang with close links to the CJNG, to help finance the latter’s criminal activities. The U.S. government added the company to an economic blacklist the same year.
Earlier this year, the daughter of CJNG kingpin Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes was arrested in Washington, D.C., after she arrived at a federal court to attend a bond hearing for her brother. Jessica Johana Oseguera González was charged with associating with businesses blacklisted in the United States for their links to the CJNG including a tequila company.
A tequila company owned by the actress Kate del Castillo was investigated by Mexican authorities to establish whether it had any financial links to the former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, currently imprisoned in the United States.
However, no illicit dealings between del Castillo’s company, Tequila Honor, and El Chapo were detected.
Source: Milenio (sp)