Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Asian Connection

ACI - Borderland Beat

Ye Gon

Most who follow the drug war are familiar with the story of Zhenli Ye Gon, the china man whose house was filled with upwards of 300 million dollars.  Some of the money was hidden throughout the walls, in file cabinets but most remember the now iconic image of a gigantic pile of cash in a corner room in his residence in Lomas de Chapultepec in Mexico City.   He was the legal represented of Pharm Chem México, a position he used to traffic pseudoephedrine and ephedrine precursor chemicals for large scale production of methamphetamines.  He was arrested in 2007 and even though his case was dismissed in the US in 2009, he is still pending charges in Mexico.  As of this writing Zhenli Ye Gon continues to be held in US custody.   Zhenli Ye Gon is fighting extradition to Mexico.

What ever happened to the rest of his network?  According to court documents  we are led to believe that the man behind one of the largest  pseudoephedrine networks in the world  was only working with a handful people?  More troubling still is that out of those found to be involved in Ye Gon's network many were found innocent after the prosecution failed to prove several "aspects" of the case. My favorite included the following: The prosecution did not identify weather the substance (methamphetamine) was a narcotic or psychotropic drug.


There is no doubt that elements of this network continue trafficking pseudoephedrine and ephedrine precursor chemicals for a number of reasons.  There have been numerous seizures since 2007; including a 15 ton seizure in 2012 which was the largest seizure in history.  There has been an increase in the size and scope of these operations since Zhenli Ye Gon's downfall.  With several cartels in Mexico heavily reliant on the proceeds from methamphetamine it is likely that Ye Gon's network of connections back in China would prove too valuable to merely let vanish.   
Wong Ryu Hyo is a man few have heard of; he is thought to head what is left of Zhenli Ye Gon network in Mexico.  His main base of operations is in Tepito; a rather famous slum in Mexico City.  It is renowned for its open markets and fiercely proud people.  The type of markets rife with pirated copies of Taylor Swift and 2Pac, knock off booze, stolen car engines and any other item which could be resold at bargain rates.  It is said, "En Tepito todo se vende menos la dignidad" or the only thing not for sale is our dignity.

The streets are jammed with merchandise, leaving not an inch to spare.  A constant chatter fills the market, the hum of people wheeling and dealing never stops.  Stalls dart out in every direction and the people are everywhere. If you need something cheap and fast Tepito is the place to go and if you can't find it here then there is a good chance you will never find it.  Most of the stalls are off the grid, part of Mexico's informal economy which accounts for  1/3 of Mexico’s GDP by some estimates.  It was back in the 1970’s that pirating knock offs took off in the area, now it sells more than simply pirated goods, it has become a place to find find anything.  Literally anything.

Santa Muerte statues adorn many locations.  There are many alters for her here.  The market itself it said to be one of the oldest in Mexico and the resident here will let you know that.  A place of pride, poverty, innovation and a bit of thievery all mixing together like pozolé.  Along the narrow passage ways one may find  an array of cooking dishes next to DVDs, right next to that an assortment of watches and childrens toys.   A journalist reported that while he was there he was able to view a wide assortment weapons including hand grenades and in an odd but chilling display of exactly what’s for sale in Tepito; the reporter was offered a motorcycle and a handgun as a package deal.  The more you buy, the greater the discount apparently.  Strangely the reporter also said he was offered to rent the package, the seller told him that's what most do.  In Central and South America motorcycle killings are common place.  In addition the vendors bragged about some arms that were procured from corrupt officials within the military.
Tepito is also home to large Korean population who have  invested heavily in shops around the area.  It is thought that as many as 2500 Korean businesses operate here.  It was this  characteristic that helped Tepito go from locally manufacturing pirated merchandise to becoming one of the largest importers of pirated merchandise in Mexico, therefore the world.  It was through these relationships an even more lucrative market presented itself.  The market for methamphetamine or to be more precise, the illegal importation of precursor chemicals used to make the drug.   

Wong Ryu Hyo is of both Korean and Chinese blood.   An educated man, Ryu Hyo is fluent in several languages.   He is not in the country legally even though he is well known in his barrio.  He found a home within the Korean population of Tepito.  He is one of the Triads main contacts in Mexico, thought to still be in charge of many shipments coming in from China.  Some say he was actually the real power behind Zhenli Ye Gon.

He imports his chemicals from Yiwu, Zhejiang, China.   Its a city of 1.2 million people known throughout the world for its own proclivity to manufacture counterfeit goods.   It has recently become a major exporter precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.   Eamonn Fingleton once said “The city of Yiwu functions as a sort of 'Wall Street' for the counterfeiting industry, providing a vast marketplace where 100,000 counterfeit products are openly traded and 2,000 metric tons of fake products change hands daily.” 

The chemicals arrive through a front company operated by a women referred to as Ms. Am Lam.  The Chemicals at the Mexico City Airport and are unloaded under the watch of Lara Hermenegildo Lugo's people, then transferred to whomever ordered the shipment.  The Asian TCO’s have little to nothing to do with the actual manufacture of methamphetamine; they simply provide Mexican TCO's with precursor chemicals and pirated goods.  Many siezures have taken place in cities such as Mazalan and Boca Del Rio as oppsed to Mexico City which has seen relativley few. Cargo shipments are more widley used than aircraft due to there being less restrictions.  It should also be noted that human trafficking also another major source of income for Asian TCO's operating within Mexico.

Lara Hermenegildo Lugo worked his way up through the system, holding many positions and posts.  He became quite renown after successfully dismantling a kidnapping ring run by corrupt government officials.   He was in charge of high priority cases involving drug dealing, car theft and kidnapping.   He was promoted to a high position within the SSP after the successful dismantling of an infamous band of kidnappers.   Lara Hermenegildo Lugo's father was the contact at the airport.   It is often officials tasked with such responsibilities which Cartels treasure the most. 

By most accounts this ring has operated without facing any real sustained pressure from the authorities, according to the information out there, they are ghosts.   Zhenli Ye Gon may have been arrested but the network is by all accounts very much in tact, still being able to bring large consignments of precursor chemicals into Mexico.  Huang Wei Chen Jie was a money man for Wong Ryu Hyo.  Some of his enforcers are Lee Young Gwang Suck, Han Heung Suck Shoi, Park Kang Hyo Sun.

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