A Mexican soldier stands guard next to some graffitis of the drug trafficker Mayo Zambada
A Mexican soldier stands guard next to some graffitis of the drug trafficker Mayo Zambada (MZ) and the criminal group "Cartel de Sinaloa" (CDS) Photo by Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) exposed deep ties between Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel and Chinese organized crime in a new case. Concretely, prosecutors charged over 20 Los Angeles-based associates of the cartel with being part of a scheme to launder more than $50 million from drug money proceedings through an underground banking system run by Chinese nationals in the U.S., NBC News reported.

"This investigation shows that the Sinaloa cartel has entered into a new criminal partnership with Chinese nationals living in the U.S. who launder money for the cartels," DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a news conference following the filing.

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada, on his end, said that Mexican cartels and Chinese money launderers "have discovered that they have mutual interests."

The former need to get money back to Mexico as quickly and safely as they can, while the latter have experience in the area as they help wealthy Chinese people circumvent restrictions on limits to sending money back to their country every year, a figure that currently stands at about $50,000.

"Together these groups have created an organization in which millions and millions of dollars are moved in proceeds from the drug sales in the United States back down to Mexico," Estrada added.

The investigation tracked suspects collecting bags of cash from cartel associates in and around Los Angeles. On one occasion, one of the defendants crashed onto a car being driven by a DEA agent to obstruct the investigation, injuring an officer. When apprehended, officials found the defendant had dozens of bundles of cash totaling almost $600,000.

Overall, 22 people have either been arrested or taken into custody, with one of them being detained in China and another one in Mexico.

The cartel was in U.S. news recently after Néstor Isidro Pérez Salas, a top member of the "Los Chapitos" faction was extradited to the country in late May.

Known as "El Nini," the Department of Justice described him as "one of the Sinaloa Cartel's lead sicarios, or assassins, and was responsible for the murder, torture and kidnapping of rivals and witnesses who threatened the cartel's criminal drug trafficking enterprise." The statement also alleges that he was a part of the cartel's "production and sale of fentanyl, including in the United States."

The 'Chapitos' cartel is considered to be the successor of the Sinaloa cartel ran by Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, who is currently serving a life sentence in Colorado for his role in it.

Guzman's sons stand accused of leading the ensuing cartel and playing a key role in the trafficking of fentanyl across the U.S. southern border. One of them, Ovidio Guzman Lopez, was arrested last year and extradited to the U.S. in September. The U.S. government holds him primarily responsible for the rise in overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl.

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