Monday, March 4, 2024

US issues sanctions against Beltrán Leyva cartel affiliates

The United States government has sanctioned 15 Mexican individuals and two Mexico-based companies with links to the Beltrán Leyva criminal organization.

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen announced the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctions in Mexico City on Wednesday.

Beltrán Leyva Organization chart
A chart showing the sanctioned individuals and companies linked to the Beltrán Leyva Organization. (OFAC)

“Today, I am announcing that OFAC is designating an additional 15 individuals and two entities affiliated with the Beltrán Leyva Organization [BLO]. This cartel has been transporting multi-tonne quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States for decades. Now, it’s producing and transporting fentanyl as well,” she said.

“These sanctions, alongside other recent designations, will help disrupt this behavior and undermine the broader dangerous network involved in the illicit supply and transfer of fentanyl,” said Yellen, who traveled to Mexico this week for meetings with officials including President López Obrador.

The latest sanctions announcement follows the United States’ designation of numerous Mexican drug traffickers this year. Among those previously sanctioned in 2023 are members of the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Who was sanctioned on Wednesday? 

Among the 15 designated individuals are two alleged BLO leaders: Oscar Manuel Gastelum Iribe, known as “El Músico” (The Musician), and Pedro Inzunza Noriega.

The Department of the Treasury said that along with Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, they “make up today’s BLO’s leadership.”

It noted that Meza was already designated in 2013 pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act and in 2021 pursuant to an executive order.

Treasury said that Gastelum Iribe is “a notoriously violent drug trafficker” who “oversees the transportation of drugs from multiple countries … for ultimate distribution in the United States.”

A Navy operation in June seized 186 packages of cocaine, weighing almost 3.5 tonnes. (Semar)

It noted that he is indicted on U.S. federal drug trafficking charges in Illinois, California and the District of Columbia.

Inzunza Noriega “works closely with Gastelum Iribe to traffic maritime loads of cocaine and manages the drug sources of supply,” Treasury said.

Among the other 13 designated individuals are:

  • José Gil Caro Quintero, a “violent drug trafficker,” U.S. fugitive and “the cousin of Rafael Caro Quintero, who was responsible for the kidnapping, torture, and murder of a DEA agent in 1985.”
  • Jesus Jose Gil Caro Monge, the son of José Gil Caro Quintero, accused of involvement in “the shipment of maritime loads of drugs from South America to Mexico.”
  • Óscar Pulido Díaz, an attorney “who has managed trafficking operations on behalf of clients with ties to the BLO and has facilitated extortion payments on behalf of the Los Chapitos faction of the Sinaloa Cartel and the BLO.”
  • Ricardo Estevez Colmenares, “a BLO plaza boss in the Mexican state of Oaxaca” who  “also acts as a hitman.”
  • Mario German Beltrán Araujo and Amberto Beltrán Araujo, sons of former BLO leader Alberto Beltrán Leyva.
  • Óscar Alemán Meza, “a boat mechanic involved in the prepping, arming, and management of maritime vessels … for drug trafficking operations.”

OFAC also sanctioned two Mexican companies: Editorial Mercado Ecuestre, “a publisher of equestrian-related media” in Guadalajara, and Difaculsa, “a retail pharmacy” in Culiacán.

They were sanctioned “for being owned, controlled, or directed by, or for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Gastelum Iribe and Alemán Meza, respectively,” Treasury said.

A chart on the 15 individuals and two companies designated by OFAC can be seen here.

Twelve of the individuals are among 60 foreign nationals charged with international heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl, and marijuana trafficking in eight U.S. indictments unsealed on Wednesday.

What are the implications of the sanctions?

Each of the 15 individuals were designated by OFAC pursuant to the 2021 Executive Order on Imposing Sanctions on Foreign Persons Involved in the Global Illicit Drug Trade.

Treasury said that “all property and interests in property of the designated persons … that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.”

“In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, individually or in the aggregate, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked,” the department said.

The Beltrán Leyva Organization

Founded in Sinaloa in the 1990s, the BLO was formerly headed by the Beltrán Leyva brothers.

The organization was previously an ally of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel, but split with the cartel once headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in 2008.

Treasury said that the BLO’s split with the Sinaloa Cartel “ignited years of bloodshed in Mexico, as these organizations battled for control of strategic drug trafficking routes into the United States.”

Héctor Beltrán Leyva arrest in 2014
Héctor Beltrán Leyva was the last of the original founding brothers of the BLO to be captured in 2014. (PGR /CUARTOSCURO.COM)

“In the years that followed, the Beltrán Leyva brothers – the founding members of the BLO – were either captured or killed. In their absence, a new generation of violent drug traffickers rose to power and assumed control of today’s BLO,” the department added.

“The opioid epidemic, as well as the evolving landscape of illicit drug trafficking, has further emboldened the BLO to take advantage of the lucrative market for illicit fentanyl in communities across the United States.”

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