- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Federal agents yesterday broke up what authorities described as an international money laundering ring diverting millions of Colombian drug dollars through a sophisticated “Black Market Peso Exchange,” an illegal currency exchange system.

U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia in New York said agents arrested 26 persons on money laundering charges in Bogota and Cali, Colombia, New York, New Jersey, Florida and London, seizing more than $10 million in drug proceeds and $6.5 million in cocaine, heroin and marijuana.

According to two indictments and a complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the suspects used “peso brokers” to serve as middlemen between cash-heavy drug traffickers and Colombian businesspeople seeking to purchase cheap U.S. dollars outside the highly regulated Colombian banking system.

Mr. Garcia said all of the transactions in the system, dubbed the Colombian Black Market Peso Exchange by authorities, are verbal, without any paper trail, making discovery of the money laundering crimes by international law enforcement extremely difficult.

He said it is one of the primary methods through which Colombian narcotics traffickers launder their illicit funds.

The charging documents said the system involves three steps:

• Drug traffickers sell their drug dollars in the United States to peso brokers in Colombia in exchange for Colombian pesos.

• The peso brokers use criminal associates in the United States to collect the drug money and deposit the illicit funds into the United States banking system.

• The peso brokers sell the drug dollars to Colombian businesspeople seeking cheap dollars outside the legitimate Colombian banking system to purchase goods to be imported back to Colombia.

Of the 26 persons arrested, Mr. Garcia said, seven were taken into custody in Bogota, seven in Cali, two in Florida and 10 in New York. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of 20 years each.


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