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Drug Traffickers Launder Funds Through Citigroup ATMs, Say US Prosecutors

US law enforcement claims that drug traffickers laundered illicit funds through Citigroup ATMs, exploiting what they perceived to be looser anti-money laundering (AML) controls. According to an indictment unsealed last week, two California men with alleged ties to Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa cartel deposited nearly $36,000 at Citi ATMs in January 2021.

Drug Traffickers Launder Funds Through Citigroup ATMs, Say US Prosecutors

The accused, Guillermo Zambrano and Luis Belandria-Contreras, are said to be part of a significant criminal network that allegedly laundered at least $50 million from the sale of fentanyl and methamphetamine in the US. In January 2021, they purportedly fed a total of almost $36,000 in illicit cash into Citigroup ATMs, making several deposits of a few hundred dollars each at intervals of just a few minutes.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials revealed to the Financial Times that the duo considered depositing the funds with several banks before opting for Citigroup. "There are banks that pay less attention than others," a senior official remarked. Another official added, "They figure out the places that are more favorable to them."

Although there were no reporting requirements for the individual transactions, the pattern of deposits should have raised suspicions, according to the officials.

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Both Zambrano and Belandria-Contreras have pleaded not guilty. A lawyer for Belandria-Contreras did not respond to a request for comment. Zambrano's lawyer informed the Financial Times that his client intended to "pursue a duress defense," claiming he engaged in the alleged activities only because he was in debt and threatened with kidnapping by a cartel member.

While Citigroup declined to comment on the specific case, the bank stated that it had "robust anti-money laundering policies." In a statement, the lender said, "When we find evidence of such activity, we notify the authorities as required and fully cooperate with any investigation through appropriate legal processes."



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