- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

Federal agents have dismantled an international money-laundering operation believed to have diverted more than $30 million in illicit drug profits through at least 11 Colombian banks, indicting more than 40 suspected money brokers and couriers.

The indictments, unsealed yesterday, culminated a four-year undercover sting investigation known as “Operation Double Trouble” that targeted suspected drug-money launderers in the United States and Colombia.

Twenty-eight persons named in the indictments were arrested in raids over the past few days that also saw the seizure of $12.8 million in cash, 161 pounds of cocaine and 10 pounds of heroin.

“This operation successfully targeted and disrupted key Colombian drug and money brokers who operated between the United States and Colombia,” said Karen Tandy, who heads the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Double Trouble signals a re-energized effort by DEA to attack the financial infrastructure of drug cartels.

“We are focusing on drug-trafficking organizations as if they are Fortune 500 companies, which must be eliminated as single business entities from top to bottom, from the boardroom and purse strings, to the street corner.”

The undercover investigation, coordinated by the government’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and involving agents from the DEA, Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department, began in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1999 and later expanded to five states and two continents.

Mrs. Tandy, in announcing the indictments and arrests during a news conference in Miami, said the initial target of the investigation was Ivan Henao, a reputed drug kingpin who reportedly headed a Colombia-based money-laundering and cocaine-trafficking organization designated by the Justice Department as one of the world’s most wanted drug and money-laundering enterprises.

The Henao organization, according to federal authorities, was one of 53 reputed drug gangs named by the department as being responsible for “the most significant supply of drugs to the United States.”

Mr. Henao was arrested yesterday in South Florida by DEA agents.

Mrs. Tandy said Mr. Henao was well-known among Colombian drug-trafficking cells operating in the United States as a drug-money broker and that at least 18 drug distribution cells throughout this country were using Mr. Henao’s money-laundering services.

The investigation, she said, documented that from June 1999 to the present, the Henao organization laundered at least $30 million in drug proceeds using a money-laundering system known as the “Black Market Peso Exchange. The BMPE is the largest known drug-money-laundering system in the Western Hemisphere and is responsible for converting the bulk of the drug currency that leaves the United States for Colombia.

Mrs. Tandy said the system enables Colombian drug cartels to exchange their U.S. drug dollars with Colombian money brokers who pay them in pesos in Colombia. Additionally, she said, the Henao organization used a number of small businesses in both countries to launder their ill-gotten gains.

“Drug trafficking is an international effort. Drug enforcement must be as well,” she said in acknowledging what she called the cooperation of “our law enforcement partners in the United States and in Colombia, along with various U.S. Attorney’s offices across the country and the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.”

U.S. Attorney Daniel Jimenez told reporters in Miami that Operation Double Trouble had “taken out one of the top money-laundering operations in the world.”

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