Tuesday, July 23, 2024

U.S. Department of Treasury targets accused Belize-Based operatives of Chapo Guzman


On Tuesday, August 7th the U.S. Department of Treasury based in Washington, D.C. issued an unprecedented and very bold sanction via a press release against three prominent Belizean businessmen. The men, namely John Zabaneh,  his nephew Dion Zabaneh and his alleged close business partner Daniel Moreno are singled out as being Belize’s key associates and Belize-based operatives of Joaquin “ El Chapo” Guzman Loera, who is linked to the Mexican-based Sinaloa Cartel. The statement came in shortly after 9AM after it was posted on the website of the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The release states that, “The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today (August 7th) announced the designation of John Zabaneh and two members of his drug trafficking organization, who are based in Belize and are key associates of Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman Loera and other members of the Sinaloa Cartel. The action also includes the designation of five companies in Belize that are owned or controlled by John Zabaneh or members of his organization.” The actions by the U.S. Department of Treasury is in pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act), which prohibits U.S. persons from conducting financial or commercial transactions with the individuals and companies pointed out in the release and also freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

OFAC Director Adam J. Szubin is quoted in the release as saying that “John Zabaneh’s drug trafficking activities and his organization’s ties to Colombian sources of supply and Mexican buyers makes him a critical figure in the narcotics trade. By designating Zabaneh, OFAC is disrupting those activities and continuing its efforts, alongside those of our law enforcement partners, to expose operatives of Chapo Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel, including their businesses.

Beside the designation of the three accused drugs operatives in Belize the action also includes the identification of five companies owned or controlled by John Zabaneh or Daniel Moreno.  Zabaneh’s companies are Mayan King Limited (one of the largest banana farms in southern Belize), Mid-South Investments Limited (building contractor and property consultant located on Coney Drive in Belize City), Crown Paradise Enterprises Limited (resort management and marina in the Stann Creek District), and Belize Chemicals Limited (pharmaceuticals).  Moreno’s company is D’s Supermarket Company Limited (a grocery store located on College Road in Corozal Town).

Guzman Loera and the Sinaloa Cartel were identified by U.S. President Barrack Obama as significant foreign narcotics traffickers pursuant to the Kingpin Act in 2001 and 2009, respectively. The release says that as such the U.S. government will continue to work to dismantle and disrupt their operations. As such, the designation of the three Belizeans is attributed partly to the key support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

DEA Chief of Financial Operations John Arvanitis said that, “DEA and its partners continue our sustained attack on brutal criminal regimes such as the Sinaloa Cartel and its leadership and those who help facilitate their drug and money networks. The OFAC Designation of the Zabaneh organization is necessary to dismantle and further disrupt the operations of the Sinaloa Cartel in other parts of the world.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera is the boss of the Sinaloa cartel and is Mexico’s most wanted man. The New York Times newspaper claims that the Sinaloa Cartel is responsible for “as much as half of the illegal narcotics imported into the United States from Mexico each year.

Zabaneh was first accused in 1986 for being involved in the flying of drugs from Belize to the US. Texas Narcotics Division agents arrested three persons near Longview, Texas on December 9, 1981, as they attempted to smuggle a quantity of marijuana into the United States from Belize in a plane. One of those arrested, Fred Tonjes, told the agents in December, 1985 that Zabaneh was one of his suppliers in Belize. Zabaneh was detained in Guatemala City on November 10, 1985 and was sentenced and exonerated following an appeal based on several technicalities.

Belizeans may recall Dion Zabaneh as being implicated in a December 2004 transaction in which he was allegedly given $6.2BZ million dollars to convert into U.S. dollars for Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) then known as Belize Telecommunications Limited. The money was never returned to BTL. Meanwhile, Daniel Moreno’s only known run in with the police is when his home was routinely searched by the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) in April of 2012 and he was charged for the possession of a single shotgun cartridge.

Internationally, OFAC has designated more than 1,100 businesses and individuals linked to 97 drug kingpins since June 2000.  Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from civil penalties of over $1 million per violation to more severe criminal penalties.  Criminal penalties for corporate officers may include up to 30 years in prison and fines up to $5 million. Criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million. Other individuals could face up to ten years in prison and fines pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code for criminal violations of the Kingpin Act.

It is uncertain to say what kind of financial ramification the U.S. Department of Treasury designation of Zabaneh’s company could have on the national economy considering the fact that Zabaneh owns one of the biggest banana plantations in southern Belize and is a key supplier of bananas for exportation.

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