September 10, 2015 / 5:41 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. charges three in multibillion-dollar drug money laundering scheme

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. authorities have charged three Colombian nationals with helping to run a global money laundering network that processed billions of dollars in drug trafficking profits through bank accounts in China and Hong Kong.

The Guangzhou, China-based organization brought in at least $5 billion in drug proceeds from the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala and Canada, as well as parts of Africa and Europe, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

One of the three men, Henry Poveda, appeared briefly in court on Thursday; the other two men, Christian Duque-Aristizabal and John Jairo Hincapie-Ramirez, are in custody in South America awaiting extradition proceedings.

All three face a single charge of conspiracy to launder money.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amir Toossi told U.S. District Judge Carol Begley Amon that the indictment includes other defendants who remain at large. They have not been publicly identified.

According to the indictment, the Guangzhou organization used Chinese casinos, currency exchange houses, export companies and factories to receive billions of dollars in drug proceeds in cash or wire transfer.

The money traveled through a network of accounts in Hong Kong and China and eventually was used to purchase products, often counterfeit consumer goods, that were shipped to Colombia and other countries, prosecutors said.

Poveda’s court-appointed lawyer, Mia Eisner-Grynberg, declined to comment on the case. She and Toossi told Amon they have engaged in preliminary plea discussions.

A fourth defendant connected to the case, a Hong Kong woman named Yuling Luo, previously pleaded guilty in April to conspiring to launder money. During a court appearance, she admitted to engaging in transactions involving proceeds from the sale of counterfeit goods but did not mention drug money.

Luo faces up to 20 years in prison when she is sentenced. She was arrested in September 2014 at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey during a layover between Panama City and Hong Kong, according to prosecutors.

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