Yaqui for Borderland Beat from: Miami Herald
Acisclo Valladares Urruela
Ex-Guatemalan minister charged in Miami with laundering millions for drug traffickers
A former Guatemalan economics minister laundered about $10 million in cocaine profits for traffickers while paying bribes to corrupt politicians and pocketing some money that passed through the U.S. bank accounts of Miami companies, authorities said Wednesday.
Acisclo Valladares Urruela, 44, has been charged with conspiring to commit money laundering but remains at large. Valladares, an attorney, is also wanted on related corruption charges in Guatemala, where he has been designated a fugitive.
The reason federal prosecutors are legally able to make the criminal case against the former foreign official is that some of the tainted money flowed through two Miami companies’ accounts to Valladares in Guatemala, according to a court filing. They also got critical assistance in the probe, called “Operation Black Mass,” from key cooperating witnesses involved in the alleged money-laundering network.
An FBI criminal complaint described Valladares, who worked in the administration of former Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales, as an “enabler of the drug trade” in the cocaine pipeline between Colombia, Central America and Mexico.
Network of Power, Corruption and Money Laundering Case
Valladares collaborated with a major drug trafficker, a corrupt politician and crooked banker in Guatemala in creating a trail of “untraceable cash,” according to the complaint filed Wednesday in Miami federal court. Both the drug trafficker, who is in prison in the United States, and the bank employee, who has pleaded guilty, are cooperating with authorities in the case against Valladares, the complaint says.
The bank employee acted as a “conduit” between the drug trafficker and the corrupt politician — all unnamed — who supplied the cash to Valladares, the complaint says. Their alleged scheme entailed “unlawful money exchanges” between parties in different countries through “mirror transactions” that left no paper trails, says the complaint, filed by prosecutor Walter Norkin. In a mirror exchange, currency is delivered to a person in one country and currency of equal value is then issued to another person in a different country.
The alleged scheme, carried out between 2014 and 2018, allowed the parties to create “fraudulent” investment opportunities that yielded false financial gains and the creation of “sham” documents to make the profits look legitimate, the complaint says.
There were also hand-to-hand deliveries of cash. Valladares regularly received backpacks, duffel bags and briefcases full of “dirty” cash to launder drug proceeds and pay off politicians to gain support for a telecommunications company seeking a major national contract, among other bribes, according to the complaint.
At least four wire transfers totaling $500,000 were made through the U.S. banks of two unidentified Miami companies to Valladares, the complaint says.
U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan said in a statement that the case illustrates the “unfortunate links” sometimes forged among drug traffickers, business people and corrupt politicians — links extending to Miami, the gateway to Latin America.
“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 said.
Written By: Jay Weaver for the Miami Herald
Jay Weaver writes about bad guys who specialize in con jobs, rip-offs and squirreling away millions. Since joining the Miami Herald in 1999, he’s covered the federal courts nonstop, from Elian’s custody battle to A-Rod’s steroid abuse. He was on the Herald team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news in 2001. He and three Herald colleagues were Pulitzer Prize finalists for explanatory reporting in 2019 for a series on gold smuggled from South America to Miami.
Jimmy Morales’ former economy minister, Acisclo Valladares Urruela, is accused by the United States of laundering drug money. In a lengthy indictment, the FBI and DEA narrate the plot of how he became involved with these groups.
FBI Special Agent Paul J. West explains that Valladares acted as the “enabler” between corruption and drug trafficking in Guatemala. The investigation began in January 2014 and ended in December 2018.
In other words, the illicit activities are related to political figures in the country from the Otto Pérez Molina administration, the 2015 electoral campaign and the management of Jimmy Morales.
Fragments of statements by witnesses who are also accused and have already pleaded guilty to money laundering or drug trafficking in the United States are presented in the public investigation.
In this note you will read about four characters who have been covered by their real names by pseudonyms by the American justice system as they witness against Valladares.
1. CW1: is a bank employee who became a witness and cooperates in exchange for a “lenient” sentence.
2. CW2: He is the second witness, a drug trafficker who collaborates with the US justice.
3. CW3: The third witness is a Guatemalan politician who pleaded guilty to money laundering and cooperates in obtaining a “less severe sentence”.
4. CC1: a corrupt politician from Guatemala.
Valladares and corruption:
Between 2014 and 2015 at an initial meeting, Valladares explained to CW1 that he needed cash “a substantial amount in large bills provided biweekly or monthly and that the cash could not be tracked,” the FBI complaint describes.
CW1 agreed to support Valladares from his position in a Guatemalan bank. “He supervised the money deliveries over the course of 4 years.”
The money did not come from the bank, but CW1 agreed to use the bank’s machinery for the purposes of Valladares and the corrupt politician CC1 who needed money laundering from corruption. CW1 stated that it arranged the plan.
Part of the money was transferred to corporations with a guaranteed investment return. CC1 would receive return money from the laundering and another percentage was delivered in non-traceable cash.
The FBI investigation confirms the investigations of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI) that with the support of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), presented in May 2019 the case of the Legislative Branch to the Executive.
This narrates the purchase of votes for the approval of certain laws.
In that case, Valladares Urruela was told to hand over cash to Roxana Baldetti, who was sending SAAS agents to collect the briefcases.
The money was transferred to his residence or his office in the vice presidency. Then her assistant Judith Ruiz assembled the bags to deliver to the deputies. They were packages of between 20 thousand quetzales up to 50 thousand quetzales.
The FBI presents in its complaint the same images that the FECI presented in May 2019.
The images presented by the FECI in May 2019. (Photo: MP)
Part of the money was delivered in suitcases and briefcases.
The FBI complaint indicates that the cash deliveries were so fast and so frequent that Valladares had to apologize to bank employee CW1. This due to the effort he was taking.
The CW1 witness told the FBI agent that Valladares Urruela once told him: “Sorry, these politicians must think that money grows on trees.”
Valladares and the Narco :
The money laundering scheme was “very effective” however, the money that the corrupt CC1 politician needed to launder ran out.
For this reason, Valladares needed new sources of cash since, according to the investigation, “Valladares still needed to bribe politicians.”
FBI Special Agent Paul J. West states that “it was at this point that the drug traffickers’ cash entered the scheme.”
The witness CW1 warned Valladares Urruela that the money came from drug trafficking and indicated that US dollars would be delivered, but Valladares preferred quetzales due to the use he would make of it. “That is, bribes to politicians,” says the FBI complaint.
In 2016 CW1 met CW2, a drug trafficker who is now the second FBI witness against Valladares Urruela in the United States.
Both CW1 and Valladares “took some steps to separate themselves from the transactions,” causing other corporate officials to sign documents.
However, there are documents that demonstrate at least four transactions. In December 2017, Valladares used a U.S. bank account to transfer about $ 350,000 to a Miami-based company. This company was controlled by CW1.
CW2, who has already pleaded guilty, testified that the banker CW1 provided him with the laundry service since he had cash in Guatemala.
CW2 gave the FBI its accounting book detailing all the transactions.
Finally, the third witness CW3 appears. He is a Guatemalan politician whom Valladares decided to support “he expressed his interest in supporting CW3 and the party.
“Weeks after the initial meeting, Valladares arrived with a bag of cash. CW3 saw that the bag contained quetzales, it was to be given to the entire chosen party,” he said.
These four testimonies support the complaint made by the FBI.
In this regard, the head of the FECI, Juan Francisco Sandoval, stated that “the findings confirm the investigations carried out by the prosecution. The payment of bribes and the money laundering operation.”
Sandoval recalled the cases that exist in Guatemala against Acisclo Valladares. In one, he is related to the Network of Power, Corruption and Money Laundering case, the second, in the case of the Subordination of the Legislative Power to the Executive, in the first, an arrest warrant was issued.
The father of the former economy minister, Acisclo Valladares Molina defended his son on Twitter, stating that the Miami case “has nothing to do with the impeccable performance as minister.”
U.S. Attorneys » Southern District of Florida » News
Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Former Guatemalan Official Who Used Drug Trafficking Proceeds and Other Dirty Cash to Bribe Corrupt Politicians Charged in Miami Federal Court
Miami, Fl. — South Florida federal prosecutors have charged a former Economics Minister of Guatemala, Asisclo Valladares Urruela, 44, with helping to launder close to $10 million of illegal drug proceeds and other ill-gotten money. Prosecutors allege that during a four-year conspiracy, Valladares Urruela enabled the illegal drug trade by creating a demand for untraceable cash, cash that Valladares Urruela used to bribe corrupt Guatemalan politicians.
Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Robert E. Bornstein, Acting Special Agent in Charge, FBI, Washington Field Office Criminal Division, and Kevin W. Carter, Special Agent in Charge, DEA, Miami Field Division, made the announcement.
According to the criminal complaint affidavit, former Minister Valladares Urruela’s co-conspirators included a major drug trafficker, a corrupt Guatemalan politician, and a crooked Guatemalan bank employee. The bank employee was the conduit between those with the dirty cash (the drug trafficker and the corrupt politician) and the person who needed it (Valladares Urruela). Maximizing on the employee’s access to and familiarity with banking mechanisms, the co-conspirators executed a sophisticated money laundering scheme that allegedly involved, among other activities, unlawful money exchanges between parties in different countries through “mirror transactions” that left no paper trails, development of fraudulent investment opportunities that yielded false financial gains, creation of sham documents to make ill-gotten gains appear legitimate, and steady hand-to-hand deliveries of large amounts of cash.
This money laundering conspiracy lasted from 2014 to 2018 and benefitted each co-conspirator. The bank employee got a cut of the various financial transactions. The drug trafficker and corrupt politician were able to exchange their dirty cash for what appeared to be legitimate earnings, complete with papers trails. This allowed the criminals to enjoy their money openly and publicly, as well as to move money to other locations secretly, including to different locations in South America. Valladares Urruela regularly received backpacks, duffel bags, and brief cases full of dirty, untraceable cash that he knew came from drug trafficking and corruption and used it to bribe Guatemalan politicians, according to the complaint affidavit. Valladares Urruela’s demand for bribe cash was allegedly so great, he allegedly once remarked to a co-conspirator that politicians must think money grows on trees.
Some of the money from Valladares Urruela’s alleged scheme with his co-conspirators passed through U.S. bank accounts. At least two Miami companies allegedly helped the co-conspirators move money to South America.
“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. The U.S. Department of Justice stands with its law enforcement partners in neighboring countries in the fight against money laundering and narcotics trafficking.”
“This investigation demonstrates that the FBI and our partners will not stop at the borders to identify and locate criminals,” said Robert E. Bornstein, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office Criminal Division. “The FBI will continue to work with our foreign and domestic partners to bring to justice Asisclo Valladares Urruela and others like him who perpetuate the unfortunate link of drug trafficking and political corruption that sometimes exists.”
“No one is ever above the law,” said DEA Miami Field Division Special Agent in Charge Kevin W. Carter. “Government officials, both foreign and domestic, are expected to obey laws. When corruption exists, it poisons the welfare of nations and almost always involves other types of crimes. The DEA Miami Field Division will always support its law enforcement partners, both national and international, to combat drug trafficking and all other criminal activities that go along with it.”
The prosecution was part of Operation Black Mass, which is a result of the ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The OCDETF mission is to identify, investigate, and prosecute high level members of drug trafficking and money laundering enterprises, bringing together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state and local law enforcement.
U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan thanked the following entities and agencies for their collaboration, investigative work and assistance with this case: the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, FBI’s Miami Field Office, FBI’s Office in Guatemala, DEA’s Office in Guatemala, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Miami and San Diego, and Customs and Border Protection in Miami.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Walter M. Norkin is prosecuting this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daren Grove is handling asset forfeiture.
The criminal complaint charges Valladares Urruela with conspiring to commit money laundering. The charges in a criminal complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.
Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov, under Case No. 20-MJ-03308.