In an opinion piece this week on the war on drugs, famed investigator Bob Mazur wrote, “The evidence is overwhelming that the most dangerous commodity peddled by the underworld is corruption.” As I read the article, I sensed Mazur’s rage and frustration. He posits we have all been deceived and there is no war on drugs.
The premise for this assertion is the recent decision by U.S. politicians, specifically Attorney General William Barr, to dismiss charges and release from custody a man referred to by Mexican drug cartels as “the Godfather.” General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was the highest-ranking military official in Mexico, reporting directly to former President Enrique Peña Nieto. He also is alleged to have arranged the shipment of huge quantities of drugs to the United States; provided the names of informants to drug cartels; released cartel members from prison; facilitated murders; tipped off cartels regarding U.S. investigations; and arranged for bribes to be paid to senior politicians.
Barr’s statement explains the general was released as a matter of foreign policy. The move, however, has trickle-down effects across the board. I have concern regarding how demotivating the release of General Cienfuegos is to all those engaged in the fight against drug trafficking, as well as those of us fighting the laundering of proceeds and the funding of corruption.
An uphill battle
As a former drug squad officer, I was accustomed to attacking the drug-dealing pyramid—sometimes from the middle, often at the bottom, and occasionally near the top. But I know back then we never made it to the top. What happened in the United States is the Drug Enforcement Administration reached the top, and what they unknowingly discovered is corruption at a level perhaps never previously seen or imagined before.
I posit the primary problem is not drugs but money. After all, drugs are sold for money, and the same money is used to corrupt people, authorities, institutions, and possibly the highest public offices in order to ensure the drugs flow one way while the money flows the other.
The recent U.S. election was fought with money—huge sums of money that funded campaigns, paid for advertisements, and sought to persuade voters to support the candidate of their choice. Major drug companies funded both Democrat and Republican candidates, as did some finance businesses/banks. Green energy companies funded Joe Biden, and fossil fuel businesses supported President Trump. Put simply, big money tried to influence, provided favors, and sought favorable outcomes in return.
As another example, in February of this year, a Russian woman, Lubov Chernukhin, paid £160,000 to play tennis against U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Indeed, Chernukhin has donated more funds to the Conservative party than any other woman in history. Her husband, Vladimir Chernukhin, is a former finance minister in Vladimir Putin’s government who now resides in London. The FinCEN leaks revealed Vladimir Chernukhin was the beneficiary of a payment of $8 million from a Russian man named Suleyman Kerimov. Kerimov is a close associate of President Putin and has been sanctioned by the U.S. government.
The point is, money buys influence in government circles in the United States, the United Kingdom, and indeed the world over. Even if the influence is subconscious, it is influence, and once the money is accepted, the influence is unavoidable. Therefore, why should we be surprised money has influenced, indeed corrupted politics and government, in Mexico? Money is power—the cartels have the money, and they have bought the power.
So, what is the point of our ongoing collective endeavors to fight money laundering and stop corruption? It is to be disruptors, frustraters, and obstacles that stand in the way of dirty money together with its dirty influence. There was a time when women were not permitted to vote and slavery was legal; good people objected to this, challenged these accepted norms, and brought about change. Our ancestors highlighted wrongdoing and lobbied for change; when we identify and report suspicions of money laundering or corruption, we further arm and equip today’s human rights campaigners. What we do makes a difference—that’s the point.
From time to time we encounter setbacks, obstacles, and challenges, but we do not surrender. Our efforts support those courageous agents on the front line undertaking high-risk work in high-risk countries, such as Mexico. We are in this together, and we will continue to follow the evidence and the corrupt money, even if it points all the way to the top of the pyramid of government.