US officials seized close to three tons of methamphetamine precursor chemicals reportedly heading for Mexico, potentially a rare instance of Mexican cartels using the US as a transhipment point.
The two shipments in question originated from China and were of methylamine chloride, a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine. They were seized on April 19 and 23 at Los Angeles International airport (LAX), both bound for central Mexico, and amounted to 2.85 tons. The amount seized could have been used to produce about $40 million worth of methamphetamine, reports the LA Times.
According to officials, though the shipments were correctly labelled -- the chemical is also used to manufacture certain pharmaceuticals and pesticides --suspicions were raised when it was discovered that neither had the necessary permits from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Customs and Border Protection regional director Todd C. Owen commended the work of officials for "preventing [the chemicals] reaching the cartels in Mexico."
The production and trafficking of synthetic drugs like methamphetamine has become a major financial resource for Mexican gangs in recent years with the Sinaloa Cartel now thought to be the largest supplier of methamphetamine to the US.
InSight Crime Analysis
The seizure of such a large amount of precursor chemicals on US soil -- what one official called "the biggest so far out of LAX" -- highlights the audactiy of Mexican cartels, if indeed they were behind this. The fact that cartels appear to be trafficking these chemicals through the US, where border agencies are far better funded and resourced than their Latin American counterparts, suggests an extremely high level of confidence and sophistication in their operations.
Although CBP officials recently seized another large shipment of 1.5 tons of methylamine chloride last September at LAX, it was reportedly bound for Illinois, making this latest discovery and its destination all the more rare.
As a leaked 2010 US Department of Justice report entitled "National Methamphetamine Threat Assessment" outlines, transhipment points for precursor chemicals used by Mexican cartels are typically located in Central America where the gangs have been pushing their production operations recently. Guatemala has been one of the countries most affected by this, seeing a four-fold increase from the amount of drug precursor seizures in 2010 when 1,600 tons were detained last year.