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MEXICO Cartels control ports: ex-Customs officer

And many confiscated goods are returned or refunded to their owner

Mexico News Daily | Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mexican Customs agents have made more than 20,000 seizures of drugs and weapons at the five busiest ports of entry during the last decade, but 70% of the merchandise seized at coastal ports ended up being refunded. And a former agent claims all entry ports are under the control of cartels.

Customs offices at theMexico City International Airport (AICM), the ports at Lázaro Cárdenas and Manzanillo and the U.S. border crossings at Ciudad Juárez and Nuevo Laredo are the five highest-traffic ports of entry out of all 49 in Mexico.

Despite a big investment in the professionalization of those offices, seizures of contraband dropped by only 116 at those locations, according to data from the Federal Tax Administration (SAT).

While federal authorities assure that nothing illegal enters those ports anymore, a former Customs officer describes agents as “employees of organized crime.”

Alleging that all of Mexico’s ports of entry are controlled by one cartel or another, he called AICM “the crown jewel, where the most expensive merchandise enters.” Since 2005, Customs has seized more than US $7 million worth of goods at the airport.

An underworld certainly exists beneath the hallways of AICM, through which more than 30 million people pass every year. Here you can find federal police, soldiers, the military, DEA agents, Interpol and private security firms, all of which have a say in what enters and leaves.

There were 135 seizures of cocaine, methamphetamines or marijuana at AICM in the last 10 years, with one haul of pseudoephedrine weighing in at 61 kilograms.

Merchandise confiscated by Customs agents can end up in different locations, depending on its category. According to Customs data, 60% of goods seized at the five ports of entry end up under the supervision of the Titles and Goods Administration (SAE). In 802 seizures, the goods were destroyed.

But there is another category in which, according to SAT, the goods’ value is “refunded to the sender.” After a precautionary confiscation, the owner of the goods has the right to dispute the case. The process can take up to four years, after which time the merchandise is often unusable. So it’s easier to ask for a refund of the product’s monetary value.

Of the 21,980 confiscations at the top five ports of entry, there were refunds in 4,424 cases. Customs at Manzanillo reported almost 3,000 seizures between 2005 and 2014, but 70% of those were later refunded, including 914 kilograms of cocaine. Nuevo Laredo stands out for being the only port of entry that did not offer any refunds during the last 10 years.

The situation in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, is even worse than in Manzanillo. Nearly 70% of illegal arms that enter Mexico enter through that city, but there were only 65 arms seizures between 2008 and 2014. During those years the city lived through a devastating crime wave.

Between 2008 and 2010, with violence raging all round, Customs authorities managed to seize illegal firearms only 27 times.

The World Economic Forum ranked Mexico 76th out of 148 countries with respect to the level of efficiency in processes at Customs. The report cited corruption and theft as the country’s principal obstacles.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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