US hits 70 'drug traffickers' with financial sanctions

Baja California state police display to the media 14 suspected members of the Sinaloa cartel Last month Mexican police arrested 14 suspected members of the Sinaloa cartel

The US Treasury Department has laid financial sanctions against more than 70 alleged drug traffickers linked to Mexico's notorious Sinaloa drug cartel.

The move bars US persons from financial dealings with alleged drug kingpin Jorge Cifuentes Villa and individuals and entities in six countries.

Mr Cifuentes, a Colombian, is accused by the US of leading a drug trafficking ring operating in Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Panama and Spain that is closely allied with the Sinaloa cartel.

'Masquerade'

"Targeting the corporate empires of narcotics traffickers is at the core of our efforts to degrade these dangerous organizations," Adam Szubin, director of the US treasury department's office of foreign assets control, said in a statement.

He said the move against Mr Cifuentes Villa's network would hinder its ability to launder narcotics-trafficking proceeds and the ability to profit from drug activities.

"Cifuentes Villa will no longer be able to masquerade as a legitimate businessman while supplying cocaine to the Sinaloa cartel," Mr Szubin said.

The Treasury Department said Mr Cifuentes Villa owned or controlled 15 companies in Colombia, Mexico and Ecuador across a variety of sectors, including real estate, consulting and air transportation.

The US Justice Department says the Sinaloa cartel smuggles large amounts of cocaine and marijuana into the US.

The Sinaloa group is headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, who has been indicted on drug trafficking charges in the US but remains at large.

Analysts say Colombian drug gangs have increasingly forged ties with Mexican cartels, who have largely taken over the distribution of drugs in the United States from the Colombian gangs.

Meanwhile, the White House said on Wednesday that US President Barack Obama planned to meet Mexico's President Felipe Calderon to discuss the increase in drug-related violence and the shooting last week of two US immigration agents, one of whom died.

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