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27/02/2014 | The Sinaloa Cartel's Brazilian Chancellor: Part I

Anabel Hernandez and Philippe Engels

US security forces have identified a Brazilian businessman as an important money laundering connection for Mexico's most powerful criminal organization the Sinaloa Cartel -- which appears intent on extending its tentacles into Brazil.


From his home in Florida in the United States, Daniel Fernandes Rojo Filho operates a network of shell companies discovered in 2008 during an investigation by US agencies the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Official documents declassified by the US government show that Rojo Filho, along with his accomplice, the Portuguese businessman Pedro Benevides, was identified in a report sent to the State Department in 2012 as a "financial component of the Sinaloa Cartel" and was accused by the DEA of conspiring to traffic and distribute drugs in the United States.

The United States considers the Sinaloa Cartel to be the most powerful criminal group in the world, and its leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, is one of the most wanted men in the world. 

The Chancellor

Despite the charges against him, the 45-year-old Daniel Fernandes Rojo Filho is a lucky man and bold enough to promote himself as the "Brazilian Chancellor to the USA" from his base in Boca Raton, Orlando, from where he even holds pseudo-official ceremonies flying the national flag of Brazil.

Through his webpage, Rojo Filho offers US investors opportunities in infrastructure projects including the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, and even projects with state oil company Petrobras.

This is the story of the "chancellor" of the Sinaloa Cartel and his connections with Brazil. The investigation was based on public documents and court proceedings in the United States and Belgium, the affidavit of an agent of the American government, and witness testimonies.

The Cartel's Florida Operator

On his Facebook wall, Rojo Filho appears to be nothing more than a Brazilian millionaire in Florida, posing in his private jet or in his Ferrari and Lamborghini cars. In three photos he is accompanied by "my friend Emmo," as he calls the former Formula 1 driver Emerson Fittipaldi. However the DEA office in Phoenix, Arizona, believes he is the head of a complex network of drug trafficking and money laundering operations in the United States.

According to records at the Florida Division of Corporations, in 2002 Rojo Filho began working with a businessman of Spanish origin, German Cadrona, and Heriberto Perez Valdes, among others, to set up a group of shell companies whose actual operations have never been legally demonstrated.

Between 2002 and 2008, at least 34 companies were created by the group, including businesses in Panama, Belgium and Florida. Many of them share the same virtual address and others are registered to the address of a suspect motel in a tourist zone in Orlando, which is owned by Rojo Filho's partner Pedro Benevides. Through these companies, multiple bank accounts were opened and used to funnel the proceeds of drug trafficking, according to the documents.

In May 2006, Rojo Filho created the company AGFC Capital Management, changing the name soon after to DWB Holding Company. The business offered investments in the commodities markets; grains, seeds, precious metals, oil, minerals and sugar. In February of that same year, Pedro Benevides created the company Sky View Aviation, whose vice-president was Rojo Filho. Both companies are at the epicenter of the drug-trafficking operation and money laundering uncovered by the DEA.

"The DWB Holding Company operates from a far-reaching financial position that makes business happen," reads the company's promotional material. "Be it world trade or negotiating complex international financial transactions, DWB Holding Company operates with skill from one of the most influential financial networks in the world."

The company ceased trading in 2012, but the government investigation into its operations continues.

In August and September 2008, the DEA and the IRS requested the District Court in Arizona to approve the confiscation of three bank accounts in the name of DWB Holding Company that were linked to an ongoing investigation into drug trafficking and money laundering. The judge ruled there was sufficient evidence to block the accounts, one in M&I Bank containing $24.3 million, another in Whitney National Bank containing $200,000 and the last in Regions Bank containing 100,000 Brazilian Reais ($42,000). This gave the DEA and the IRS the chance to prove that millions of dollars were circulating through the accounts in a short period of time.

"The analysis of bank records confirmed that profits from drug trafficking were deposited in this account (M&I Bank) and that these funds were being invested," Noel F Martinez, of the IRS financial crimes unit said in testimony given under oath in a court in Florida.

The company responded by filing a suit to recover the money, but failed, and in 2013 the money was seized by the justice system.

On October 30, 2009, a fraud investigation made its way to the District Court of Central Florida. As a result, the American government seized 56 more bank accounts opened by Rojo Filho, Pedro Benevides and his family network, along with 294 gold bars and 9 luxury vehicles. The frozen assets were valued at over $200 million.

Financial Agents of the Sinaloa Cartel

Four years after the start of the US government's investigation into Rojo Filho and Pedro Benevides, the Pentagon and the White House think tank, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), published a report entitled, "Investigation into financial threats: financial components of the Sinaloa transnational criminal organization," which was commissioned by the Northern Command of the Department of Defense.

According to the report: "Mexican transnational criminal organizations move their finances through formal and informal channels, with most of the resources from the sale of narcotics internalized via small scale bank transfers. They also use sophisticated networks, such as money laundering based on trade schemes to disguise the origin. In general, they have many legitimate and illegitimate businesses, including shell companies or fictitious companies that facilitate the movement of money, people and drugs."

The IDA document, dated April 2012, identifies Rojo Filho, Benevides and the companies they created and ran as "financial agents" for the Sinaloa Cartel. According to investigations, the money laundering operations of Rojo Filho, Benevides, and Perez Valdes Cardona, functioned as a Ponzi scheme and through fraudulent renewable energy projects. The scheme conned thousands of people in the United States, Belgium, Canada, Austria, Spain, France, Panama and Eastern Europe.

The Ponzi scheme utilized the company Evolution Market Group (EMG), which was created in Panama by German Cardona in 2007 under the name of Forex Finance. The fraud in renewable energy investment was through the Florida company Green Power Systems and the Belgian companies Rosalus Invest and Daro Invest -- all companies connected to Rojo Filho and Benevides and DWB Holding Company and Sky View Aviation.

At least $213 million was moved into the banking system in less than one year, mixing money from the fraudulent investments with drug trafficking to make it difficult to track the funds' origins. These transactions went through at least 14 US banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Wachovia, all of which have an ample history of laundering money from Mexican cartels.

There are several examples of how the laundering process worked. On July 28, 2008, Rojo Filho opened a personal bank account and seven business accounts. In a single day -- August 4, 2008 -- he made seven deposits in company accounts and two in the personal account, coming to a total of $1.12 million.

In 2007, Heriberto Perez Valdes created the company Obbalube Investment Corporation, whose finance director was Rojo Filho. Investigating ICE agents found that in just one week in September, a bank account opened in the company's name in a Florida branch of Wachovia Bank received $13.8 million from different locations around the world.

Another example is the M&I Bank account opened by Rojo Filho as president of DWB Holding Company on August 4 2008. In four days, local and foreign companies paid $11.3 million into this account through 1,249 bank transfers. When the judge ordered the seizure of the account on August 22, 2008, it contained $24.3 million. (Estados Unidos)


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