Romanian Prosecutors Fear Riviera Maya Gang Leader Might Flee Mexico

Published: 14 April 2021

Riviera MayaRiviera Maya gang, a criminal organization that stole more than a billion dollars by compromising ATMs across Mexican tourist destinations. (Photo: OCCRP)

By Attila Biro

Authorities in Romania said they fear that the chief of the so-called Riviera Maya gang, a criminal organization that stole more than a billion dollars by compromising ATMs across Mexican tourist destinations, might flee the Latin American country and escape justice.

A Bucharest tribunal issued in March an arrest warrant against Florian Tudor, a Romanian who currently resides in Mexico, after the Anti-Mafia Department accused him of setting up an organized criminal group, extorting, and instigating attempted murder against his former right hand, Constantin Sorinel Marcu.

Tudor’s group, which established its headquarters in Cancun, cloned credit and debit cards in compromised ATMs across the country and allegedly funneled the money into real estate in Mexico and Romania through companies they controlled.

The alleged gang leader has consistently denied all charges and appealed the ruling but the court rejected his arguments last week, opening the possibility to request Tudor’s extradition from Mexico.

Prosecutors have labeled Tudor as ‘a threat to the public order’ and fear the gang leader might rebuild his criminal network if he escapes Romanian law enforcement, court documents seen by OCCRP revealed.

Romanian authorities complained that their Mexican counterparts haven’t been helpful throughout the process and added that Tudor's continuous references to Mexican politicians in his public statements are part of an intimidation strategy aimed at blocking efforts to probe the gang’s nefarious deeds.

On Wednesday, Mexican media reported that a federal judge has prevented for now the extradition of Tudor. The Romanian citizen currently waits for Mexican justice to accept his pending requests for ‘amparo’ (legal protection measures) to recover his confiscated assets and prevent deportation or extradition.

Tudor has reportedly said through his lawyers that he’s unable to leave Mexico to face justice in his home country because he has a child who needs special care, arguing that prosecutors can hear his deposition while he’s abroad.

The court documents also reveal new details on how Tudor gave orders and intimidated other gang members to preserve control over the organization, including a heated argument via text messages between Tudor and Constantin Sorinel Marcu before his murder.

An investigation by Mexican authorities later attributed Marcu’s homicide to a security guard who protected Tudor’s compounds in Cancun.

OCCRP, Quinto Elemento Lab, Mexicanos contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (MCCI) and Rise Project published an investigation in 2020 that revealed the operations of the Riviera Maya gang accounted for over 12% of the credit card skimming worldwide.

Romanian prosecutors estimate the Riviera Maya network was 1,000 men strong, with members scattered across Romania, Mexico, India, and the United States.

Six members of the gang currently face sentences ranging between three and ten years. A Bucharest court found them guilty last March of attempted murder, extortion, setting up an organized crime group, illegal possession of a gun, and driving without a license.