It’s fast becoming the money-laundering method of choice for Mexican drug traffickers, U.S. and Mexican officials say, and it involves truckloads not of cash, but of fruit and fabric.
Faced with new restrictions on the use of U.S. cash inMexico, drug cartels are using an ingenuous scheme to move their ill-gotten dollars south under the guise of legitimate cross-border commerce.
U.S. and Mexican authorities say trade-based money-laundering may be the most clever — and hardest to detect — way in which traffickers are washing and distributing their billion-dollar profits.
“It’s such a great scheme,” said an undercover agent with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, agency. “You could hide dirty money in so much legitimate business, and they do. You can audit their books all day long and all you see is goods being imported and exported.”
Here’s one way it works: Instead of smuggling the money the old-fashioned way, by simply carrying it south in bags and trucks, teams of money launderers working for cartels use dollars to purchase a commodity, and then export the commodity to Mexico or Colombia. Paperwork is generated that gives a patina of propriety. Drug money is given the appearance of legitimate proceeds from a trade transaction.
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