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US Citizen Who Washed Money via a Guatemala Casino Pleads Guilty to Aiding El Chapo-Linked Cartels

Conspiracy to launder at least $30m

China-born US citizen Xizhi Li, 48, has pleaded guilty to masterminding a conspiracy to launder at least $30m for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman-linked drug cartels, partly through a casino in Guatemala.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) shared news of the money-laundering network leader’s guilty plea before a federal court on August 2 via Twitter:

The Justice Department stated that the federal court on August 3 also handed out a seven-year prison sentence to another Chinese national, 46-year-old Tao Liu, who pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy plus a separate bribery charge on April 14.

pleaded guilty to his “leadership role [in a] years-long conspiracy”

Ringleader Li is, however, the big fish behind the money laundering ring. On Monday he pleaded guilty to his “leadership role [in a] years-long conspiracy to use a foreign casino, foreign and domestic front companies, foreign and domestic bank accounts, false passports, and other false identification documents to launder money on behalf of transnational drug-trafficking organizations, whose main drug-trafficking activities involved cocaine,” the DOJ said.

According to the The Washington Post, Li’s scheme allegedly washed “tens of millions of dollars” for drug-running organizations, including El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel.

Coke, cartels, and a casino

Li primarily orchestrated his scheme, prosecutors said, while living in Mexico and Guatemala. He used aliases to open bank accounts in the US and to acquire a casino in Guatemala which was used to launder money.

Over the years, Li developed close relationships with drug traffickers. A Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) seizure application, reported The Washington Post, contained investigative reports leading to the conclusion that the Sinaloa cartel was supplying Memphis-area cocaine, with Li in charge of washing the money.

The Post also states court records reportedly show investigators informing a judge that “some of Li’s money laundering was conducted on behalf of a Central American cartel led by Marisela ‘Iron Lady’ Flores-Torruco.” Flores-Torucco allegedly distributed cocaine for El Chapo.

Special Agent in Charge of The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s Louisville division, J. Todd Scott, said the “successful outcome of this complex, multi-year investigation” was down to the “dogged determination” of the DEA, working in tandem with federal law enforcement entities.

The DEA also took to Twitter on August 3 to share news of the Li case, with an excerpt from its Administrator Anne Milgram stating the DEA and its law enforcement partners “relentlessly pursue individuals, like [Li].”

Li’s sentencing date is October 26. He faces a maximum of 20 years in jail, plus a $10m forfeiture money judgment.

Collaboration yields rewards

Acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Raj Parekh talked up the “enormous value” of domestic and international collaboration to “dismantle and hold accountable transnational criminal organizations that pose a significant danger to the public.”

Another example of international cooperation bringing down a crime bigwig culminated in the arrest of the reputed mastermind of an Asian crime syndicate in Amsterdam in January. Netherlands police arrested Tse Chi Lop, the alleged leader of an Asian drug gang with links to money laundering, on the back of a warrant issued by the Australian Federal Police.

Australian media described Tse’s apprehension as “the most important” arrest in two decades for the country’s law enforcement.

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