The most important money laundering connection yet discovered in the ongoing fight against Mexican drug cartels was revealed last year when, according to Forbes ("Banking on Drugs," Nov. 15, 2007):
In September, a U.S. registered Gulfstream II business jet carrying 3.3 tons of cocaine crashed in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. A year earlier, a DC-9 aircraft loaded with 5.7 tons of cocaine from Venezuela was seized in Mexico by Mexican soldiers.One of the two planes turns out to have flown in and out of Guantanamo Bay a few times, which has led some to speculate straight up US government involvement in drug smuggling, since only someone with significant government clearance would be allowed in the restricted airspace.
Both of the planes were purchased through a Mexican exchange house called Casa de Cambio Puebla, and that's turning into a problem for Wachovia, the fourth biggest bank in the United States, and Harris Bank, the Chicago unit of Canada's BMO Financial Group.
Then, in November 2007, seventy employees of Casa de Cambio Puebla were taken into custody in Mexico City, and accounts were frozen at Wachovia (Miami) and Harris Bank (Chicago). In an indictment released over the holidays, the Mexican Attorney General alleges that money from the currency exchange was used to purchase a fleet of 50 American-registered aircraft, including the two captured full of cocaine in Mexico.
The use of currency exchanges to launder money appears to be fairly common practice, though I'm certain it's not the only method. A Chilean smuggler laundered Euros through his own chain of Casas de Cambio, funneling tens of millions of dollars through accounts at Israel Discount Bank of New York; Harris Bank in Chicago; and J.P. Morgan Chase in Dearborn, Mich., the Wall Street Journal reported recently.
It's hard not to notice Harris Bank cropping up in both scandals, isn't it? (When it comes to following money trails, I'm not a big believer in "coincidence.") Harris Bank was also one of ten institutions named by Sen. Carl Levin in 2001 as a "significant gateway" for money laundering.
Meanwhile, I've been harping on WFAA reporter Byron Harris' reports out of Dallas that the Ex-Im Bank gave massive loans to cartel figures, and criticizing new Ex-Im Bank guidelines for failing to make preventive anti-corruption measures mandatory. It turns out the Chairman of Ex-Im Bank's advisory commitee is Wachovia's General Counsel, a former Marine and Naval Academy graduate Mark Treanor.
Again, it's hard not to notice that Wachovia's top lawyer finds himself in a uniquely central position in two different federal investigations. Not only must his legal team react to allegations of Wachovia's money laundering involvement, at the same time the Ex-Im Bank, whose advisory committee he chairs, is allegedly loaning money to drug cartel figures.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Treanor has been selling off quite a bit of Wachovia stock over the past couple of years. Perhaps he knows something we don't?
No conclusions to be drawn here yet, I'm just looking at recent, published reports hoping to connect a few dots. But if there really are "American drug lords" out there, I'm starting to think maybe they're bankers.