US Charges Former Guatemalan Minister with Money Laundering

Prosecutors in Florida accused a former economics minister of Guatemala, of laundering about US$10 million in illegal drug trafficking proceeds and of corruption, a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

Guatemala Bags copyBags the suspects used to deliver dirty cash. (Photo: Valladares Urruela, 44, an attorney who served in the government of Jimmy Morales, was part of a sophisticated scheme involving money exchanges between different parties in different countries that resulted in dirty money from drug traffickers and from a corrupt politician to be exchanged for what appeared to be legitimate earnings, the prosecutors claim.

An unnamed Guatemalan bank employee, now a cooperating witness, was the conduit between Valladares Urruela, the drug traffickers and the politician and would receive a cut from the financial transactions.

Valladares Urruela would regularly receive backpacks, duffel bags, and brief cases full of dirty cash for which he knew came from drug trafficking and corruption. He used that cash to bribe politicians in Guatemala, said the statement.

"This case demonstrates the unfortunate links that sometimes exist in Central and South American countries among drug traffickers, business people, and corrupt politicians," said U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan.

"Although Miami serves as a bridge between the United States and our neighbors to the south, drug traffickers, corrupt officials, and their dirty money are not welcome in our district," she declared.

At least two Miami companies were allegedly used by the co-conspirators to move money to different locations in South America, to support unlawful activities, such as narcotics trafficking.

Some of the money that was laundered ended up passing through banks in the U.S.

"Guatemala is a strategically important country for large-scale Drug Trafficking Organizations because it is a trans-shipment point for a cocaine trafficking pipeline that goes from Colombia to Mexico before branching off to various locations within the US," says the criminal complaint affidavit.

"Cocaine that originates in Colombia is often transported to Guatemala before it is re-sold or moved further north into Mexico, where cartels are charged with importing the cocaine into the U.S.," it said.

Two participants in the scheme have pleaded guilty in the U.S. of narcotics trafficking and one has been jailed.