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French Analyst Says To Fight Fentanyl, Go After the ‘Black Holes of Global Finance’

In the concluding article to a hard-hitting three part series titled “Narco Business” published in November in Le Monde’s English and French editions, Bertrand Monnet, a former French army lieutenant currently teaching a course on “criminal economy” at Paris’s prestigious business school, EDHEC, calls on international authorities to get serious in their war on drugs and go after the “banking havens.” Without their role in money laundering, drug trafficking could not exist.

Monnet’s investigation starts with the current dope “blockbuster,” fentanyl, a synthetic opioid between 30 and 100 times more powerful than heroin, and already the leading cause of overdose death among Americans ages 18 to 49. In March 2022, twelve-month drug-overdose fatalities reached their highest recorded level in the U.S., with an estimated 110,360 deaths, more than those who died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

Monnet describes the following picture of the fentanyl operation: Precursor materials are mostly shipped into Mexico, largely from clandestine labs in Asia (including China and India). The precursors are then transformed into “M30” blue pellets in Culiacán, Mexico, the hometown of the Sinaloa Cartel. The cartel operates in a decentralized way, as a “confederation” of dozens of clans, each composed of about 35-50 narcos, each running its own production, export and money laundering, the cartel itself taking care at the top of corrupting mainly the Mexican police and customs. From their side, “under U.S. pressure,” says Monnet, the Mexican army is now engaged in “real” war against the cartel. Producing 1kg of fentanyl costs the narcos $17,000 but earns them $400,000, a 2,300% profit margin. The cartel is now expanding sales and operations to Europe, especially Paris, according to Monnet’s sources.

Money laundering involves three levels. “The first phase of the operation, called placement, consists of distributing the cash—in concrete terms, heaps of banknotes—into thousands of bank accounts. To do this, the cartels either inject the money into the treasuries of the hundreds of companies and businesses they control or deposit it directly into bank branches whose employees they bribe so that they won’t report these deposits as suspicious.”

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