“MX” for Borderland Beat
|Zhenli Ye Gon|
Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican businessman suspected of providing Chinese chemicals to Mexican drug cartels and being involved in money laundering since 2005, has tested positive for COVID-19 in Mexico’s maximum-security prison.
This news comes a week after Ye Gon was denied an appeal where he asked for his release. Ye Gon’s defense argued that the crimes against him had reached their statue of limitations but National Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) rejected the motion and confirmed otherwise.
Ye Gon currently faces 12 criminal charges. The most serious one is organized crime involvement and drug conspiracy. If found guilty of both crimes, Ye Gon could be sentenced to a maximum of 60 years.
Last month, Borderland Beat reported that Ye Gon had asked for “better” prison conditions. He told a federal judge that he suffers from asthma and hypertension, and that he wants to live in the same prison unit with his cousin Ye Yong Qing, who is serving a 25-year sentence and does not speak Spanish. Ye Gon claims to have depression and that is he tired of being secluded from the rest of the inmate population.
Ye Gon told the same federal judge that he was subject to “discrimination” from prison authorities. Unlike other inmates, Ye Gon claimed that his cell was not cleaned up and sanitized as part of the COVID-19 pandemic measures.
Ye Gon was born in China in January 31, 1963 and became a naturalized citizen in 2002 under the presidency of Vicente Fox. The President himself awarded him his citizenship status; at that time, the Mexican government thought that Ye Gon was a promising pharmaceutical investor and entrepreneur.
But Ye Gon was reportedly working as a chemical provider for Mexican drug cartels. He was suspected of importing chemicals from a Chinese firm and selling them to gangsters in Mexico to create crystal meth.
In 2007, Mexican federales busted his mansion in Lomas de Chapultepec, one of the most-exclusive neighborhoods in Mexico City. In his mansion they found US$205.6M dollars in cash pilled in several rooms. At the time, DEA agents stated that the money seized at Ye Gon’s mansion was the “biggest cash bust” seen anywhere in the world.
|Part of the currency seized in Ye Gon’s mansion (2007)|
“I was not in Mexico when the events of this operation happened. At home I had cash, dollars, Mexican pesos, euros and other foreign currency,” Ye Gon said in his defense.
He argued that all his assets were legal and that he had invoices with their corresponding import taxes to prove it. Ye Gon said that he kept his money in his house because he did not trust banks and because at that time he was not allowed to open a bank account using U.S. dollars. In the past, he told reporters that the money was going to be used to finance political campaigns in Mexico.
Ye Gon was in Las Vegas when his house was raided and denied any wrongdoing. Authorities found it suspicious that he spent millions of dollars in Las Vegas casinos, often in a single night. American prosecutors tried to frame him for importing crystal meth, but his charges were later dropped.
He remained in U.S. custody until 2016, when he was extradited to Mexico. He is currently imprisoned at the Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1 (“Altiplano”), Mexico’s maximum-security facility.
Charges in Mexico
After his extradition to Mexico, Ye Gon sent a letter to a journalist stating that there were US$275 million in his house when it was seized in 2007. However, he argued that the Attorney General’s Office only declared that there were US$205.6 million dollars. Ye Gon said that Mexican authorities also seized more assets, included works of art, piano collections, exclusive wines and gold bars, which he claims were never reported.
The court stated that from February 16 to September 19, 2005, Ye Gon (as legal representative and shareholder of Unimed Pharm Chem México) received a US$9.4 million dollar transfer that he knew came from illegal origins. At least US$900,000 of this total amount came from a source that has not been identified yet.
Mexican prosecutors stated that the US$9.4 million dollars in question are different than the US$205.6 seized in his mansion, thus eliminating double jeopardy.