The pictures tell the story: Thousands upon thousands of U.S. $20 and $50 bills, crisply stacked and banded into neat packets and carefully tucked away into shipping containers filled with bags of ammonium and sodium sulfate bound for Colombia.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), working with our law enforcement partners in Colombia, made the initial seizure on September 10 of $11.2 million from a shipment at the port of Buenaventura, Colombia. Subsequent investigation by ICE, Colombian authorities and Mexican authorities revealed additional shipments in Buenaventura and Manzanillo, Mexico, with large amounts of cash hidden inside.
The total is jaw-dropping -- at least $40.5 million and counting, as of this writing -- and it constitutes the largest container bulk cash smuggling seizure in ICE, U.S. and Colombian history. It's an investigative success we might not have achieved without closely collaborating with our counterparts in Mexico and Colombia, and it is a testament to what can be accomplished through this collaboration.
At this point, the investigation has not yet identified the organizations or individuals behind these shipments. However, it is well-established that the two ports in question are key points of a route used for smuggling cocaine northward to Mexico and the United States, and for sending cash back into Colombia. The scheme is believed to have been perpetrated by or on behalf of a major trafficking organization, or organizations, operating in Colombia.
Perhaps most important is what these seized dollars represent. Every illicit dollar we can stop from flowing across the border is one less dollar going to fuel the cartels' operations. It's one less dollar they can use to buy guns, or to pay a corrupt official to look the other way. By targeting the flow of money, we hit the traffickers where it hurts most.
John Morton is the Assistant Secretary for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement