Why do we know so much about “Chapo” and Pablo Escobar and nothing about the anonymous and wealthy men in coats, ties and exclusive cars with a central role in drug trafficking?
Popular culture and the media have been in charge of publicizing the life and work of the ‘grand’ drug lords. This is how they have managed to make these characters even adored by the masses. The opposite occurs with those behind these criminal networks, those big bankers who legalize billions of dollars produced by these mafias.
The riches of the drug traffickers would be nothing without the complicity of the international financial system and the big bankers. These — in the best of cases — turn a blind eye to the immense transactions that are carried out in their coffers. And thus, they allow to launder the illegal capital obtained through the commercialization of narcotics.
Mexican journalist and writer Cecilia González wrote a news report on the subject for Actualidad RT. The work is titled: “Why don’t we know the faces, life and work of the bankers who launder money from transnational crime?” In it, she explains to a large extent how the international media, governments and large businessmen are in charge of filtering the identity of these characters.
González details that drug traffickers such as Pablo Escobar, Amado Carrillo Fuentes (the Lord of the Skies) and Joaquín ‘el Chapo’ Guzmán are world-renowned figures. Their faces are famous and their lives are broken down in countless fiction and non-fiction books, series and movies.
“The deaths of some and the life of another are narrated in detail. We know about their crimes, their romances, their families, their accomplices, their likes and dislikes”, she wrote.
And adds that “journalistic reports on these and other characters, such as the terrorist Osama Bin Laden, have a guaranteed hearing. Of course, they were turned into emblems of crime and terrorism, with a first and last name. They are ‘the bad guys’ “.
But, in all this framework, a piece is always missing. Why do we not know the faces, life and work and crimes and punishments of the bankers who launder money from transnational crime?
Why do we know so much about “Chapo” and Escobar and nothing about the anonymous and wealthy men in coats, ties and exclusive cars with a central role in drug trafficking? It all starts with the production of illegal drugs or arms trafficking. Then it ends with the money laundering that allows these activities to be carried out with such success and, above all, with multimillion-dollar profits?
Who protects the bankers?
“The answer lies in the hypocrisy of the international financial system, which would be affected if the policies on drugs were to change and the legalization of all substances were to be done and if terrorism were really fought. They would lose the lucrative dividends they obtain at the cost of the lives of thousands of victims”, explains González.
In this sense, she adds that the complicity of the bankers is essential for money laundering. It is the best option that drug traffickers have, for example, since there is no other way to move the more than 300,000 million dollars of profits they obtain each year.
According to the data presented annually in its World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, profits from drug trafficking are equivalent to 1.5% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. “It is too much money to have it in cash”, emphasizes the columnist.
For example, criminal organizations have found in the banks in the United States and Europe the best refuge to launder their fortunes, through complex financial operations. And nothing suggests that this is going to change.
In 1998, the then United States Attorney for Justice, Janet Reno, and the Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Rubin, presumed that 65 undercover agents of the Customs Service carried out ‘Operation Casablanca’ for more than two years, which uncovered multiple operations of money laundering of the Juarez and Cali cartels.
“They expected to confiscate more than 100 million dollars. They accused Mexican banks, but at the pompous press conference they never said that one of the most complicated banks in these illegal operations was Citibank from the United States, which later had to be investigated”, explains González.
Despite the international scandal unleashed by ‘Operation Casablanca’ — she adds — the banks of the most powerful country in the world continued to launder money from criminal organizations.
Money laundering in the United States
In 2006, authorities discovered that the Wachovia bank had allowed more than 100 million dollars from the Sinaloa Cartel to enter the United States banking circuit.
Four years later, the Wachovia vice president signed an agreement in which he acknowledged that the bank had violated anti-money laundering laws. Between fines and confiscations, he paid around $ 160 million. That was the entire penalty, because none of the bankers, nor their employees went to jail. Much less the majority shareholders.
“That year, the bank’s profits exceeded 12,000 million dollars, so the fine it paid for laundering drug money was just a ‘tip’, another sign of impunity”, explains the columnist.
It did not take long for another bank to have to explain away suspicions of money laundering. A US Senate Commission found that Britain’s HSBC had transferred $ 7 billion to the US banking system between 2007 and 2008.
After years of pleading not guilty and cross-accusations, the bank acknowledged that it had laundered money and agreed to pay a record fine of nearly $ 2 billion in 2012. Again, no banker was tried in a judicial court.
“It is as if they were patted on the shoulder and said: ‘don’t do it again.’ But, obviously, they continued to do so”, emphasizes González.
González adds that recently a collaborative journalistic investigation allowed to debate again the role that bankers play in money laundering on a global scale.
“Major banks and financial services companies do little or nothing to prevent money laundering. Rather, they are active participants in the opacity with which the fortunes of transnational organized crime are transferred”, she explains.
In a process similar to the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, 400 reporters from 108 media outlets, coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, began to publish — in dozens of countries — notes on specific cases of suspicious banking operations based on of Treasury Department documents that were leaked to BuzzFeed News.
Some of the firms mentioned are JPMorgan, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon. This immediately caused the shares of all these banks to plummet on the US stock market, but from there, nothing else happened.
“The days have passed and we still do not know the faces, names and surnames of the bankers involved. Of those responsible for hiding multimillion dollar accounts, of receiving piles of cash in armored trucks, of delaying reports from clients who carried out suspicious operations, of not suspending those accounts. Of maintaining active the money laundering schemes”, denounces the reporter.
In addition, she maintains that “it is very unlikely that we will ever get to know about them, because the effort of hundreds of colleagues runs into the little concrete impact that disclosures usually have. The traditional press has not done much effort to fill its pages with investigations that annoy large advertisers, political friends and, sometimes, the owners of the media themselves”.
“Therefore, it is better to publish discreetly and then look the other way. As always “, González concludes in her article.
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