Mexico's Knights Templar earns more than $73 million each year outside of its drug trafficking activities, revealing the diverse criminal portfolio of the group and the difficulties authorities face in tackling it.
Raising money from kidnapping and extortion, contraband and counterfeit goods, investments in legitimate businesses, and protection rackets, the group -- which is based in the Pacific coastal state of Michoacan -- earns in excess of $6 million each month, without counting profits from drug sales in the United States, reported Milenio.
According to information gathered by Mexican security services and accessed by Milenio, the group earns $2.2 million each month from local drug transportation and sales, and up to $600,000 more from illegal activities such as car theft, kidnapping and the black market. Close to $1 million is raised each month from extorting businesses, while in excess of $1 million comes from extorting local governments. A further $1.3 million comes from legitimate businesses, which are also used to launder illicit profits.
The breakdown of the Knights Templar's domestic earnings came on the same day it was announced one of the group's leaders, Leopoldo Jaimes Valladares, had been arrested in possession of military-grade weaponry. Jaimes has been accused by authorities of being behind much of the violence carried out in the state, amid suggestions he was involved in coordinated attacks recently carried out against energy installations.
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The revelation of just how much the Knights Templar earns, before even taking into consideration revenues from the US drug market, supports the notion that it is now one of Mexico's most powerful criminal groups. Its grip over the port of Lazaro Cardenas -- a key entry and departure point for contraband, drugs and precursor chemicals -- has given it a prominent position within the pacific drug trade; something Mexican authorities have recently tried to address by sending federal forces in to take control of the port.
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However, previous attempts to confront the Knights Templar with federal force have failed to dislodge the group. Earlier this year a series of attacks against security forces, as well as the assassination of a top naval official -- which were subsequently linked to the Knights Templar -- led to the deployment of federal troops. However the group's power remains unbroken.
The biggest challenge the group seems to have faced is the rise of a vigilante self-defense movement, which claims to oppose criminality and has caused the Knights Templar to cut off fuel and food supplies to certain municipalities. However, accusations that a rival criminal group is funding the vigilantes have muddied the waters of an already complex criminal landscape.
With the Knights Templar's stronghold now under federal supervision, it remains to be seen whether the group will be adversely affected, or if it will simply return to the fore as soon as federal forces retire.