We read almost daily about the Mexican and US governments’ efforts to crack down on drug smuggling and weapons trafficking. Arguably, both countries are making unprecedented efforts to cooperate and coordinate law enforcement activities on both sides of the border. New agreements have been made between US agencies to improve efficiency and southbound vehicle inspections are now being performed. But it seems that the Mexican government has failed to focus on a crucial aspect of organized crime: money laundering.
Back in the 1920s and early 1930s, Prohibition was in full effect in the United States, and few places felt the effects more strongly than Chicago. It was considered the most violent and corrupt city in the country at the time, and organized crime groups like Al Capone’s syndicate operated in Chicago with impunity. However, it was not a crackdown on bootlegging or a few arrests here and there for assaults or murders that brought down Al Capone’s organization; it was the federal government finally getting involved and going after the money. Al Capone went to jail for tax evasion, not murder or bootlegging.
Along somewhat similar lines, when the US government goes after foreign terrorist organizations like al-Qa’ida or Hizballah, they don’t only go after the operatives or their weapons; they go after the money they use to fund operations. Investigations of the money laundering activities of organized crime groups in the United States are a crucial part of successful prosecutions.
So why isn’t the Mexican government going after drug money? Part of the reason is that Mexico’s laws regarding money laundering are weak. According to the International Monetary Fund’s Detailed Assessment Report On Anti-Money Laundering And Combating The Financing of Terrorism (2008), Mexico has “made progress in developing its system for combating money laundering, but further work is needed to strengthen it.” Also, Mexican anti-laundering drugs are comprehensive but don’t meet international standards; they, too, need to be strengthened for better implementation. Even more concerning, “[money laundering] offenses are not being adequately investigated.” Mexican authorities have obtained only 25 convictions for money laundering since it was criminalized in 1989.
It seems like this is one more thing Calderon doesn’t need on his plate. His cops are dirty, his army is being stretched thin, and now he needs to worry about changing laws and going after dirty money in addition to the drugs and guns. But if going after the money can bring down Al Capone and help dismantle groups like al-Qa’ida, Calderon might want to reconsider his priorities.