Uruguayan authorities have arrested several suspects linked to Mexico crime group Los Cuinis, a move that could shed light on some previously obscure aspects of the organization's international operations.
On April 22, police in Montevideo detained 11 people, including Mexican citizen Gerardo González Valencia. According to Uruguayan newsweekly Búsqueda, Gerardo is the brother of Abigael González Valencia, the alleged leader of Los Cuinis -- a relatively little-known organization thought to maintain an alliance with the powerful Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG).
In a previous investigation based on documents obtained through the "Panama Papers" mega-leak, Búsqueda reported that Gerardo González Valencia and a woman identified as his wife, Wendy Delaithy Amaral Arévalo, had ties to two companies established by the now-infamous Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
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Those companies -- Montella Global SA and Deltodo Enterprises -- reportedly invested in real estate in Punta del Este, Uruguay, where González Valencia maintained a residence, as well as in industrial properties in China and Russia, using the Uruguayan firm Asesores y Consultores del Sur Ltda. (Advisors and Consultants of the South, Ltd. - Asconsur) as an intermediary.
According to Uruguay's El País, local authorities suspect González Valencia of laundering money for Los Cuinis through the real estate investments. Reuters reported that luxury vehicle purchases were also used to launder illicit funds. Both news outlets indicated that González Valencia has been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges.
Mexican authorities arrested Abigael González Valencia, alias "El Cuini," in the state of Jalisco in February 2015. In January of this year, police detained another González Valencia brother, Elvis, who is reportedly the brother-in-law of suspected CJNG leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias "El Mencho." Mexican media reports identified Elvis González Valencia as a top money launderer for CJNG.
InSight Crime Analysis
The arrest of Gerardo González Valencia could shed new light on the financial operations of Los Cuinis, which has been described as "Mexico's richest cartel." According to sources consulted by Mexican news outlet Proceso, Los Cuinis derive significant revenues from their dominance over the Asian and European markets for cocaine and methamphetamine.
Los Cuinis and the CJNG, however may be part of the same criminal network. According to a US federal indictment filed in March 2014 and unsealed in April 2015, Abigael González Valencia and El Mencho stand accused as co-defendants on drug trafficking and organized crime charges in the United States. The indictment alleges that "Los Cuinis works closely with and shares […] illegal narcotic trade assets with CJNG."
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It is possible that Los Cuinis may have laundered some of those shared illicit assets through the companies linked to Gerardo González Valencia. According to the US State Department's most recent International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Uruguay remains an attractive location for money launderers due to its highly dollarized economy and relative lack of restrictions on capital flows.
The US Treasury Department has been ratcheting up the pressure on Los Cuinis over the past year. In April 2015, the Treasury added the group to its so-called "Kingpin" list, following up by sanctioning several Cuinis-linked individuals and businesses in August, and blacklisting two Mexican newspapers tied to the group in December.