Calderon spokesman: Mexico unaware DOJ was passing laundered cash to cartels

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
Font Size:

According to a spokesperson for Mexican president Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s government was left in the dark about a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration drug money laundering scheme that allegedly facilitated the transfer of millions of dollars to Mexican drug cartels.

The program was similar to Operation Fast and Furious in that the U.S. Department of Justice, under Attorney General Eric Holder, was allegedly furnishing narcotics traffickers with laundered drug proceeds in an attempt to discern how those funds would move, and to whom.

On this week’s Al Punto, a Sunday news program on the Spanish-language television network Univision, Calderon spokeswoman Alejandra Sota said the Mexican government was not aware of, or involved with, any DEA money laundering scheme.

According to a New York Times report, “in operations supervised by the Justice Department and orchestrated to get around sovereignty restrictions” drug enforcement agents “laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds as part of Washington’s expanding role in Mexico’s fight against drug cartels.”

Almost immediately after the Times published the story, and House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa’s subsequent announcement that he will expand his investigation of Operation Fast and Furious to examine reports of DEA-facilitated money laundering, the Department of Justice released a public statement disclaiming the practice as perfectly ordinary.

In that statement, the Obama administration claimed it was “working collaboratively with the Mexican government” on the efforts to fight more widespread money laundering.

“As our partners in Mexico have stated, the joint investigations to detect and dismantle money laundering networks have led to important advances and detentions in each country,” the DEA and DOJ jointly said. “The cooperation between the United States and Mexico is based on principles of shared responsibility, mutual trust and respect for the jurisdiction of each country.”

This weekend’s interview with Calderon’s spokesperson contradicts those Obama administration claims.

Al Punto host Jorge Ramos asked Sota about the allegations. “The New York Times has just filed a report days ago in which it assures that there was an operation or various operations of money-laundering by American DEA agents along with Mexican agents to try to identify drug traffickers,” Ramos said, according to a translated transcription. “I saw an interview with President Felipe Calderon. It was suggested there that Mexico did not know about this operation. And that’s my question. Did the Mexican Government know about this DEA operation to launder drug traffickers’ money in Mexico?”

Sota responded that the Mexican government was unaware.

“No,” she said. “The Mexican Government did not know, and it’s important to stress that we have begun an investigation by the [Mexican] attorney general to establish responsibilities, and in any case to investigate if there was any involvement. But in no way did the government have any knowledge of an operation of this nature.”

“But if the government didn’t know,” came Ramos’ follow-up, “then how is it possible that, according to the New York Times report, Mexican agents participated in this operation along with DEA agents?”

“Well, it’s definitely something that has to be investigated,” Sota responded. “But from the get-go, we deny that there was any knowledge on the part of Mexican authorities about an operation of this nature.”

Leaving Mexico in the dark about operations that cross national boundaries is not a new theme for Eric Holder’s Justice Department. On Dec. 8, Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee that he still has not briefed Mexican officials, including Attorney General Marisela Morales, about Operation Fast and Furious.

Morales has publicly voiced her concerns about the Obama administration’s failure to provide her with information about the scandal-plagued program’s details.

Operation Fast and Furious was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program overseen by the DOJ. It facilitated the sale of thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers, people who legally purchase guns in the United States with the known intention of illegally trafficking them somewhere else. In Fast and Furious, the straw purchasers were known to be trafficking the weapons into Mexico, effectively arming Mexican drug cartels.

At least 300 people in Mexico were killed with Fast and Furious weapons, as was U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Follow Matthew on Twitter