Foreign drug cartels are financial juggernauts, generating billions of dollars annually through slinging cocaine, heroin and other drugs internationally. Cartel hitmen are also responsible for swaths of murders, which are committed to maintain their respective empires. There is no way for these organizations to thrive without the cooperation of legal businesses, willing to launder their ill-gotten funds. According to reports, even big banks are in the business of washing cartel money. HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, has come under-fire in recent years for laundering money for Mexican and Colombian cartels. Recently, families of Americans murdered by Mexican cartels brought a lawsuit against the London-based financial institution, for extending “continuous and systematic material support” to the Sinaloa, Juárez, and Los Zetas cartels by cleaning billions of dollars.
The lawsuit was filed by the Zapata, Avila, Redelfs and Morales families against HSBC Holdings, HSBC Bank USA, and HSBC México S.A. in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas, on Tuesday, February 9. According to Forbes:
In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila, Jr. came under heavy fire from cartel members while travelling in an armored vehicle displaying U.S. diplomatic plates in northern Mexico. Zapata was killed and Avila wounded.
Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, an employee of the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juárez, and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, a detention officer for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department, were ambushed by members of the Juárez Cartel in 2010. Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, who was four months pregnant, was fatally shot twice in the head.
The fourth victim, Rafael Morales Valencia, was abducted on his wedding day in Mexico, tortured and then murdered by assassins identified as members of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The 103-page complaint partially reads, “During the time period leading up to the attacks on the Victims, HSBC knowingly laundered billions of dollars for the Mexican cartels who committed the attacks, including the Sinaloa, Juárez, and Los Zetas Cartels, knowing or deliberately disregarding the fact that said funds would be used to support the Mexican cartels and their terrorist acts against Mexican and U.S. citizens.”
One cartel leader labeled HSBC as “the place to launder money.” Four years ago, The Department of Justice found that the Sinaloa Cartel and Norte del Valle cartel of Columbia collectively funneled $881 million through HSBC. HSBC Holdings agreed to pay $1.92 billion in penalties to the United States.
The plaintiffs in the current lawsuit are seeking the maximum award allowed under the Anti-Terrorism Act. HSBC vows to defend itself “vigorously” against the accusations. In statement published by Reuters, HSBC representatives said, “We are committed to combating financial crime and have taken strict steps to help keep bad actors out of the global financial system.”