MEXICO CITY – Authorities confiscated more than $200 million in U.S. currency from a band of methamphetamine producers headquartered in one of this city’s ritziest neighborhoods, they said Friday, calling it the largest drug cash seizure in history.
The bust reflected the vast scope of an illegal drug trade linking Asia, Mexico and the U.S., officials said. Two of seven people arrested Thursday at a faux Mediterranean villa in the Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood were Chinese nationals.
The group was part of a larger drug-trafficking organization that imports so-called “precursor chemicals” from companies in India and China for processing into methamphetamine in Mexican “super labs,” authorities said. The methamphetamine eventually is sold in the United States.
The arrest came after an investigation that began in December when authorities seized 19 tons of pseudoephedrine, a cold medicine that is a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine, at a Mexican port on the Pacific Coast.
A legally registered Mexican company, listed by a trade association as the country’s third largest importer of pseudoephedrine, was implicated in the alleged crime, officials said.
Mexican drug-trafficking organizations have become increasingly important in the wholesale and retail trade in methamphetamines within the U.S. because tougher controls have been placed on the sale in the U.S. of the chemicals used to produce the highly addictive drug.
President Felipe Calderon hailed the seizure as a major development in his government’s war on drug traffickers, who have ravaged several Mexican cities and towns.
“We are working in a decisive manner to save our country and to keep Mexico safe and clean,” Calderon told an audience in Tijuana. “I don’t even want to imagine how many young people this gang poisoned with its drugs. But I can assure you, they will do it no longer.”
Mexican officials said the cash seized was mostly in U.S. $100 bills and weighed at least 4,500 pounds.
“Kudos for the Mexicans,” said Donald C. Semesky, the financial operations chief for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “They’re very serious in this effort, and we commend them.”
U.S. officials said that, if confirmed, the cash seizure would be several times larger than any other made from drug traffickers.
Investigators were analyzing the $205.6 million in cash to check for counterfeits, but a spokesman said the bills appeared to be legitimate.
Authorities said that the band of traffickers was led by a naturalized Mexican of Chinese descent who appeared to have left the country.