Argentina officials are investigating the financial arm of a powerful Mexican cartel -- showing the country's eagerness to shed its notoriety as a money laundering hub for international drug traffickers.
On March 15, a federal judge in Morón, in the province of Buenos Aires, questioned Oscar Calvete Souza, a businessman who allegedly acted as a local connection to a Mexican group known as Los Cuinis, Clarín reported. Argentine courts have also questioned another man believed to have been the group's driver and frontman.
The Cuinis -- described as “Mexico’s richest cartel” -- serve as the financial arm of the infamous Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG), although recent reports indicate they may have been fully integrated.
SEE ALSO: Jalisco Cartel New Generation News and Profile
Calvete Souza is accused of working with Gerardo González Valencia, a Mexican national who is one of the leaders of the Cuinis. González Valencia lived in Argentina with his own family between 2007 and 2011 before moving to Uruguay.
A few years later, in 2016, González Valencia was arrested in Uruguay on money laundering charges after a company he used to buy property in the exclusive city of Punta del Este was named in the Panama Papers scandal.
Investigators told Perfil that González Valencia managed the organization’s operations from Uruguay with nothing but his cell phone. During the arrest, authorities seized goods worth $10 million from González Valencia. Authorities in Uruguay approved his extradition to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges.
The judge in Argentina is asking for the seizure of properties González Valencia bought with money he made while living there.
InSight Crime Analysis
Argentina’s pursuit of the case against Gerardo González Valencia sheds new light on the power and reach of Los Cuinis, and highlights both Argentina and Uruguay's recent willingness to pursue drug-money launderers.
Both South American countries have long been branded safe havens for money laundering, which made them attractive to criminal organizations like Los Cuinis looking to invest their earnings.
Uruguay provides ample money laundering opportunities through its dollarized economy and relative lack of restrictions on capital flows. Its links to major drug markets across the Atlantic and in neighboring Brazil and Argentina make it a popular destination for drug traffickers.
The fact that Gerardo González Valencia was able to live in Uruguay for so long and avoid arrest hints at the ease with which traffickers have used the country as a home base.
His 2016 arrest suggested that the Southern Cone countries were ready to tackle the group's incursions.
SEE ALSO: Mexico Institutional Failures Allow CJNG to Thrive Unchecked
A number of top members of the González Valencia family which makes up the core of Los Cuinis have been arrested in Mexico and Brazil in recent years.
In September 2018, Rosalinda González Valencia -- Gerardo's sister and wife of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” the CJNG's leader -- was released on bail in Mexico just three months after she was arrested on organized crime and money laundering charges.
Abigael González Valencia, the other leader of Los Cuinis, was arrested in Mexico in February 2015 and remains in jail.
In late 2017, federal police in Brazil arrested José González Valencia, alias “La Chepa,” in a rented beach house in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, where he had joined his family for the holidays. The arrest followed an extradition request by the United States, which sought the crime boss on drug trafficking charges.
These blows to the group have cast serious doubt as to whether Los Cuinis remain an independent partner of the CJNG, or have been completely taken over by the cartel.