U.S. Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman (C) of the Southern District of Florida speaks at a press conference in Miami, Florida March 17, 2010. Sloman announced a settlement that the Wachovia Bank unit of Wells Fargo & Company has agreed to pay $160 million as part of a deal to settle U.S. allegations that it laundered Mexican drug money. At left is Deputy Chief Counsel Daniel Stipano of the Office of Comptroller of Currency and at right is Mark Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, Miami Field Office. REUTERS/Joe SkipperBy Brett Wolf, Complinet

ST. LOUIS, Jan. 31 – The consumption of illegal drugs generates tens of billions of dollars for Mexico’s drug cartels each year, and the fight against it creates significant challenges for those who oversee and participate in the US financial system. The river of money flows into Mexico mostly in the form of cash, often hidden in secret vehicle compartments. The money feeds cartel operations and stokes conflicts with the government and with rivals that have killed an estimated 35,000 people during the past four years. US authorities have bolstered their efforts to halt the cross-border cash shipments, but their progress has been limited. Policymakers are desperately searching for better ways to fight the flow.

An investigation by Complinet has revealed details of how the money flows, and a potentially underused tool: the closely held “country flow” data maintained by the New York Federal Reserve Bank. The records, only recently made public, document the international flow of US cash and could help to illuminate the shadowy paths taken by drug money. They are so closely guarded, however, that experts say the ground-level investigators who could make the best use of it never see it, and the issue is so sensitive most government officials are unwilling to talk about it for attribution.

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