Money Laundering Sting Extended
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal authorities extended their massive undercover money laundering sting to Venezuela with an indictment charging four banks and five individuals with laundering $9.5 million in illegal drug trafficking proceeds.
The indictment, announced Wednesday by the Treasury and Justice departments, was unsealed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. It’s the fourth stemming from the U.S. Customs Service-led ``Operation Casablanca,″ the largest drug-money laundering case in U.S. history.
On Monday, officials disclosed the three-year operation, which exposed links between Mexico’s largest banks and the Cali drug cartel of Colombia and the Juarez cartel of Mexico.
So far, authorities have arrested 160 people and seized $87 million, two tons of cocaine and four tons of marijuana. They hope to arrest nearly 40 more people and seize an additional $70 million.
In the latest indictment, four Venezuelan banks were charged: Banco Del Caribe, Banco Industrial de Venezuela, International Finance Bank and Banco Consolidado.
Separately, the Federal Reserve issued a temporary cease and desist order to U.S. branches of Banco Industrial, instructing them to ensure its full compliance with money laundering laws.
Banco Industrial issued a statement in Caracas promising to cooperate fully with the U.S. investigation, and pointing out that the bank has been a ``pioneer″ in implementing measures to combat money laundering.
Venezuela’s drug czar, Carlos Tablante, told reporters Wednesday in Caracas, ``We have always said that any person who appears implicated, no matter the level, the position or the institution, should face the full weight of the law.″
Also named in the indictment were Esperanza de Saad, executive vice president for Banco Industrial, and Marco Tulio Henriquez, vice president at Banco Del Caribe. Saad, the sister of former Venezuelan finance minister Luis Matos Azocar, was arrested Tuesday in Miami. Henriquez and a third man, Roberto Vivas, are believed to be in Venezuela.
A fourth individual, Carlos Izurietta Valery, was arrested in Los Angeles on Monday. A fifth, Carmen Salima Yrigoyen, was arrested in Miami on Wednesday. Despite the extensive publicity given to the indictments of the Mexican banks, U.S. agents persuaded Yrigoyen to fly from Venezuela to Miami for a meeting.