Police in Peru are targeting a transnational money laundering network they claim could be linked to cartels in Mexico, in a rare move against a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that is firmly established in the country.
Peruvian authorities have frozen 50 bank accounts and seized 37 properties and 24 vehicles, together worth around $7 million, in an operation targeting a money laundering network dubbed "La Gran Manzana" (the Big Apple) -- a reference to the names of the front companies they allegedly used to launder drug money, reported the Associated Press.
Police have identified a Peruvian couple believed to head the network and three Colombian associates, who remain at large. According to investigators, the group used front companies that imported computer games and equipment from Spain and the United States to move cash and launder proceeds (see police chart below).
Authorities have connected the ring to several Peruvian drug trafficking operations broken up in recent years -- including one in which an uncle of one of the Peruvian leaders was arrested for alleged involvement in an attempt to export nearly four tons of cocaine to Spain.
Police also said they may be linked to Mexican groups the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas, reported La Republica.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the Peruvian police are keen to portray "La Gran Manzana" as part of a major coordinated criminal structure involved in transnational drug trafficking, it is more likely they are a specialist operation offering financial services to drug traffickers.
In Peru, drug trafficking remains for the most part in the hands of small criminal clans who act as suppliers for transnational operations, such as the Mexican cartels. Given the size of the seizures -- which, while not insignificant, pale in comparison to other operations seen around the region -- it is likely the network repatriated drug profits in Peru on behalf of these clans, rather than working directly with Mexican groups or other major transnational operations.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering
The police operation is a rare success against money laundering in Peru. However, it represents a minor blow against an industry that launders around $8 billion of illegal funds a year, according to the estimates of Peru's anti-drug prosecutor, Sonia Medina.
Within the country, there is very little resistance to the laundering of money from the drug trade and other illegal activities -- such as illegal mining and extortion. The money often passes through poorly regulated small businesses such as hotels and casinos.