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DEA defends money-laundering operations with Mexicans

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
updated 9:32 PM EST, Mon January 9, 2012
The DEA announced in 2009 that an operation in Mexico led to nearly 1,200 arrests and the seizure of 11.7 tons of illegal drugs.
The DEA announced in 2009 that an operation in Mexico led to nearly 1,200 arrests and the seizure of 11.7 tons of illegal drugs.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A report on the DEA's undercover role sparks a response from the agency
  • Cooperation with Mexican authorities has gone on for years, DEA says
  • The agency says it has seized criminal money all around the world

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Drug Enforcement Administration strongly defended Monday its involvement in undercover drug trafficking and money laundering with Mexican anti-drug counterparts.

The DEA issued a statement declaring the DEA and Mexican authorities have "for years" worked together in secret operations to fight the financial laundering of proceeds from illegal drug trafficking primarily from Colombia to Mexico to the United States.

"DEA works with Mexican authorities to gather and use information about these criminal organizations to counter the threats they pose to both of our countries," said DEA spokesman Lawrence Payne. "As a result of this cooperation DEA has seized illicit transnational criminal organization money all around the world."

The issue of the DEA's undercover role was re-ignited Monday when the New York Times reported documents from an extradition order in Mexico revealed DEA agents posing as money-launderers helped a Mexican drug trafficker and his Colombian supplier move millions of dollars around the world. The secret operations were part of an effort to infiltrate and eventually dismantle a powerful drug cartel.

The Colombian supplier that the U.S. sought to extradite from Mexico is identified as Harold Poveda-Ortega. Authorities declined to say whether he has been extradited to the U.S.

At its root, the case involves the often thorny question of when law enforcement agents in a sting operation should "pull the trigger" and end an illegal operation that they have monitored, or even assisted.

In this case, millions of dollars' worth of cocaine smuggled from Mexico through the United States en route to Spain was seized by Spanish authorities upon its arrival in Madrid.

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