Mexico Freezes Accounts of Romanian Riviera Maya Gang

As a result of a joint investigation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) blocked dozens of bank accounts believed to be belonging to a Romanian gang allegedly involved in skimming ATMs in Cancun and other tourist destinations across the country.

atm machineatm machine (pixabay)“With the agreement of the national security cabinet of the Government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, we have blocked 79 individuals and legal entities belonging to a criminal group of people of Romanian and Mexican nationality, who were dedicated to cloning credit and debit cards in tourist destinations,” the head of the FIU, Santiago Nieto said on Twitter.

A FIU source confirmed to Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (MCCI) that the frozen accounts belonged to the gang of Florian Tudor, a Romanian national who was previously investigated for carrying weapons reserved for the military and for environmental crime.

The FIU indicated that it detected operations between members of the gang worth a total of 463 million pesos (US$23 million), international transfers of more than 483 million pesos ($24 million), as well as the issuance of checks and thousands of inter-bank transfers worth 4,643 billion pesos (US$231 million).

In 2020, the FBI asked the FIU to collaborate in tracking the properties and transactions carried out by Tudor and his partners Adrian Constantin Tiugan and Adrian Ninel Enachescu.

The accounts were blocked eight months after OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project), Quinto Elemento Lab, Mexicanos contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (MCCI) and Rise Project published an investigation that revealed the operations of the Romanian criminal group.

The FIU source estimated that the gang is involved in illicit operations worth over $240 million a year globally, a figure similar to that calculated by OCCRP and partners.

At the center of OCCRP and partners’ investigation is the company Top Life Servicios SA de CV. It was created in December 2013 by suspected Romanian criminal, Adrian Constantin Tiugan, who evaded international arrest warrants for allegedly participating in an ATM skimming scheme in Italy and the Vatican.

Tiugan created Top Life in the booming Mexican tourist destination of Quintana Roo, using a falsified immigration permit. On March 1, 2014, the company signed a contract with an unwitting Banco Multiva to install ATMs which it had corrupted along the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mexican Pacific, according to the investigation.

The Riviera Maya gang is thought to use devices called “skimmers,” which are installed inside the ATM and are used to read the magnetic stripe on bank cards. Meanwhile, a small camera records the user’s PIN code as they enter it. Armed with this information, criminals can clone the victim's card and use it for purchases or to withdraw cash.

Between 2014 and 2019, the criminal organization, whose activity spread across three continents, allegedly looted some US$ 1.2 billion from the compromised ATMs that it installed in various Mexican cities, according to documents from the journalistic investigation and interviews with dozens of sources.

The FIU confirmed that the exchange of information between Mexican agencies and the FBI made possible the identification of the Romanian and Mexican organization, which had established its operations’ headquarters in Cancun, Quintana Roo, along with other destinations popular with foreign tourists such as the Riviera Nayarit, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta, all on the Pacific Coast.

The leader of the Riviera Maya gang has been in the crosshairs of the Mexican authorities since March 2019, when the Attorney General's Office began an investigation into the crime of illegally carrying a firearm permitted only for the exclusive use of armed forces. 

Mexican police have yet to make public the other reasons why Tudor and its partners are being investigated. Sources did not respond to whether there are arrest warrants against the gang members.