Mexico Questions U.S., Chinese Port Security

MEXICO CITY_Chinese and U.S. authorities are investigating whether a breakdown in security at their ports allowed an illegal shipment reportedly carrying more than 19 tons of a chemical intended for methamphetamine cartels to reach Mexico, the Mexican attorney general said Thursday.

The shipment led to what has been touted as the world's largest seizure of drug money and the arrest of Chinese-Mexican businessman Zhenli Ye Gon, who is accused in the United States and Mexico of supplying pseudoephedrine to Mexican cartels who then used the drug to make methamphetamines.

In March, authorities found more than US$205 million (euro149 million) hidden inside Ye Gon's Mexico City mansion.

Ye Gon was arrested Monday by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in a suburban Washington restaurant. He faces charges he conspired to smuggle drugs into the United States and laundered millions of dollars (euros) from illegal drug sales at Las Vegas casinos and elsewhere, the U.S. government said in a criminal complaint Tuesday.

Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora told a news conference Thursday that investigators want to know how the shipment arrived in Mexico with false paperwork after passing through Chinese and U.S. ports.

Mexican agents intercepted a ship from China last year that carried more than 19 tons of a proprietary chemical that can be easily be converted into pseudoephedrine, all of it illegally imported by Ye Gon, Medina Mora said. The shipment left Hong Kong and passed through the U.S. port of Long Beach and was seized at the Mexican port of Lazaro Cardenas.

"There was evidently a falsification of documents that took place at some moment after the product left Chinese territory," Medina Mora said.

Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, assistant attorney general, also questioned how Ye Gon - who lost more than US$125 million (?91 million) gambling in Las Vegas since 2004 - did not raises suspicions by U.S. authorities.

"Tell me, how could he have broken all the anti-money laundering measures?" he told W Radio in an interview Wednesday.

FBI and U.S. customs officials did not immediately respond to messages left by The Associated Press' seeking comment. Chinese officials could not immediately be reached.

Medina Mora said the seized chemicals were manufactured by a Hong Kong-based pharmaceutical company, which he said allegedly offered to help Ye Gon convert it into pseudoephedrine.

But import documents presented with the shipment when it arrived in Mexico listed a different, nonexistent firm and described the contents as another substance.

Mexico canceled Ye Gon's permit to import pseudoephedrine in 2004 after new restrictions only allowed pharmaceutical companies to import it.

Ye Gon has said the chemicals imported by his company, Unimed Pharm Chem de Mexico SA, were legitimate and intended for cold medicines to be made at a factory in Toluca, just west of the Mexican capital. Ye Gon's lawyers said he has nothing to do with illegal drugs.

Officials say he was building the massive factory to process the component for Mexican traffickers who supply about 80 percent of the methamphetamines in the U.S. market.

Also Thursday, Medina Mora said the Mexican government has distributed the seized US$205 million (euro149 million) among Mexico's judiciary branch, the Health Department and the federal Attorney General's office to fight organized crime and drug addictions.

Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said Thursday most of his department's share will go toward building 300 drug rehabilitation centers across Mexico over the next four years.

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