Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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HomeOpinionCommentaryUS agencies broaden counternarcotics strategy

US agencies broaden counternarcotics strategy

– First, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has sanctioned eight targets affiliated with La Nueva Familia Michoacana, a notorious Mexican criminal organization that traffics fentanyl and other lethal drugs into the United States including [to] Georgia.

– Second, Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has issued a new advisory for financial institutions to help them detect financial flows that fuel the illicit fentanyl supply chain. This is critical to enabling law enforcement and sanctions actions against fentanyl traffickers.

By Janet L. Yellen

Costs of the Opioid Epidemic

Since 2000, more than one million people in the United States have died of drug overdoses. Hundreds of thousands more Americans could die from drug overdoses by the end of this decade. And fentanyl and other synthetic opioids make up the significant majority of drug-related deaths. Here in Georgia, overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased by over 200 percent between 2019 and 2021.

This is a staggering, almost unimaginable, toll. Far too many families and communities across the United States are losing their loved ones to opioids. And while this is first and foremost a heartbreaking personal loss, it’s also a loss for our economy: The US Joint Economic Committee estimates that the opioid epidemic cost America nearly $1.5 trillion in 2020.

Biden administration actions

This is why president Biden has directed the entire US government to use every tool at our disposal to combat the opioid epidemic and save lives. It’s a priority of the president’s unity agenda. The administration has expanded treatment for Americans across the United States, including by increasing access to life-saving medication.

The president has also bolstered law enforcement capabilities at and within our borders, such as by adding more drug detection machines at points of entry. US law enforcement has seized more fentanyl at ports of entry in the past two years than in the previous five years combined. As we look ahead, the president’s budget would allow us to strengthen these efforts, including by putting in place 100 additional cutting-edge inspection machines to help detect fentanyl.

We’re also engaging with our foreign partners. Last July, president Biden launched the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats, bringing together more than 100 countries and 11 international organizations.

And counternarcotics is a focus in our bilateral relationships, including with China: the key source of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture fentanyl. President Biden and president Xi agreed to resume cooperation on counternarcotics last year, and Treasury plays an active and important role in the newly established Counternarcotics Working Group. I’ve also raised this issue directly with my Chinese counterparts, and one of the outcomes of my trip to China in April was agreeing to deeper cooperation in fighting money laundering, which will help us crack down on narcotics trafficking.

Collaboration with Mexico is also crucial. As I saw firsthand when I travelled to Mexico in December and announced sanctions against the Beltrán Leyva Organization, our joint efforts span specific actions to broader work to develop financial flow typologies. Treasury is committed to sharing more information, including with financial institutions on both sides of the border, and we will emphasize the need for even greater cooperation as we engage with president-elect Sheinbaum.

Our work with partners and at home is rooted in the understanding that cartels that peddle fentanyl operate in many respects like other businesses: They rely on access to banking systems and to the US dollar to make payroll and finance purchases. This means the Treasury Department has a unique ability to disrupt and degrade their operations. We’re particularly focused on two areas related to today’s actions: sanctions and partnerships with financial institutions.

Sanctions

Treasury’s sanctions target kingpins and their support networks who seek to exploit our financial system to traffic narcotics. An Executive Order strengthened our ability to go after drug trafficking organizations, their enablers, and their financial facilitators. And over the past two years, Treasury has sanctioned more than 250 targets for involvement in drug trafficking activities.

In recent months, this has included targeting Mexican individuals and entities linked to the most notorious Mexican cartels, from CJNG to the Sinaloa Cartel. Today’s action advances our efforts by targeting high-level leaders of a cartel that traffics drugs across our Southern border to Dallas and Houston and then farther afield – to Chicago, Charlotte, and to right here in Atlanta. La Nueva Familia Michoacana is also involved in smuggling migrants from Mexico to the United States.

The leaders we’re targeting have carried out heinous acts, from controlling drug routes, to arms trafficking, to money laundering, to murder. Two of those designated have been indicted by courts here in Georgia, including on charges of heroin conspiracy and money laundering.

Our sanctions will cut off the cartel leaders from their ill-gotten money and make it harder for them to bring deadly fentanyl to our streets.

Financial Institutions

Our ability to carry out these sanctions actions and other actions is supported by our engagement with the private sector.

We know that narcotrafficking organizations, including major cartels, rely on anonymous corporate structures – shell companies – to launder and stash their profits, so we are taking systemic action to stop this. As part of our implementation of the bipartisan Corporate Transparency Act, we now require many companies to report basic information about who owns or controls them -information we can then use to combat illicit finance.

We are also partnering with financial institutions to support their crucial role in flagging potentially illegal activity. Last month, Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, in partnership with IRS Criminal Investigation, began a new series of public-private information-sharing exchanges that bring together law enforcement and regional and local banks to share information on tracking illicit financial flows, including indicators of fentanyl-related activity. We plan to reach 10 cities across the United States by the end of the year. And I look forward to meeting this afternoon with law enforcement and financial institutions to deepen similar cooperation.

The advisory I’m announcing today is another important step. It provides information and guidance to help financial institutions identify and report suspicious transactions related to the procurement of precursor chemicals and manufacturing equipment used to manufacture illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. This allows us to follow the money behind the illicit fentanyl supply chain and go after the criminals perpetrating and profiting off of the opioid epidemic.

Conclusion

Combatting the trafficking of fentanyl is a significant challenge. It will not be solved overnight. But let me be clear: The president and I will do everything we can to combat this crisis. Treasury’s recently established Counter-Fentanyl Strike Force will help us coordinate our efforts and make sure we are leveraging all our authorities. We will continue to work with partners at home and abroad. And we will deploy all the tools at our disposal to keep Americans safe, to strengthen our economy, and to protect our financial system.

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