WASHINGTON — Federal authorities in the U.S. targeted an alleged major money laundering network in two separate actions on Tuesday, charging 31 individuals and entities with funneling hundreds of millions of dollars of alleged drug money through several companies, including six textile firms in Colombia.
The Treasury Department designated Colombian nationals Isaac Perez Guberek Ravinovicz and his son, Henry Guberek Grimberg, and 29 other people and companies located in Colombia, Panama and Israel as “Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers.”
In a separate action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Miami field division filed criminal charges against Guberek Ravinovicz and Guberek Grimberg and two other Colombian nationals for their participation in the alleged international conspiracy.
The Treasury Department action was taken under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which generally prohibits U.S. persons and companies from conducting financial or commercial transactions with the designated individuals and entities, and freezes any assets they may have in the U.S.
According to authorities, Guberek Ravinovicz and Guberek Grimberg led the money-laundering network and were based in Bogota, Colombia.
They relied primarily on “the use of ostensibly legitimate textile companies within Colombia to engage in trade-related money laundering,” according to Treasury. “Using bank accounts for these companies, as well as accounts belonging to a series of shell companies in Panama, Guberek Ravinovicz and Guberek Grimberg provide a means for traffickers to transfer narcotics proceeds back to Colombia from locations all over the world, with drug money transiting additional accounts in Spain, Hong Kong, the United States, Mexico, China, Israel, the Cayman Islands and Venezuela, as well as other locations in Europe and Central America.”
A Treasury Department spokesman identified six Colombian textile companies, including: SBT SA, G&G Internacional SAS (aka Sebastiano), C.I. Del Istmo SAS, Comercializadora Internacional Andina Limitada, Colombo Peruana De Tejidos SA and Induitex LTDA.
The U.S. has a free-trade agreement with Colombia, under which qualifying textile and apparel products can be shipped to the U.S. duty-free. U.S. textile and apparel imports from Colombia totaled $261 million for the year ended May 31, according to U.S. trade data.
Colombia is a small apparel and textile supplier to the U.S. By comparison, Vietnam shipped $8 billion in textile and apparel imports to the U.S. during the same period and China, the number-one supplier, shipped $41 billion to the U.S.
It could not be learned if any of the six Colombian textile firms were producing apparel or textiles for U.S. companies.
Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said she did not recognize the names of the six Colombian textile companies that were targeted and had not heard from any U.S. apparel importers about goods being caught up in the factories.
The Colombian government did not respond by press time and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Southern Florida declined to comment.
U.S. authorities said the network of companies laundered drug money for drug-trafficking organizations, including Ayman Saied Joumaa and Linares Castillo, who have each previously been designated by Treasury officials.
According to the Treasury Department, Joumaa operates global narcotics enterprises, stretching from South America to Africa, benefiting terrorist groups such as Hizballah, a Lebanese-based terrorist group.
“Money laundering is the lifeblood of the narcotics trafficking world,” said David S. Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department. “Our action against this major money-laundering network strikes a powerful blow at the illicit profits flows of criminals like Ayman Joumaa and Linares Castillo.”
“Drug traffickers’ only motive to enter the illegal drug trade is the money, and they will go to any length to hide and protect their proceeds,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Mark R. Trouville. Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from civil penalties of up to $1.08 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, while criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million. Other individuals face up to 10 years in prison and fines.