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Families Accuse Bank of Laundering Gang Money

The families of several U.S. citizens murdered in Mexico filed a lawsuit this week against HSBC Holdings and its subsidiaries alleging the company supported various drug cartel activities by laundering millions of dollars for gangs.

A Juárez municipal police officer keeps patrol while at a murder scene in the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico on May 28, 2010.

The families of several U.S. citizens murdered in Mexico have filed a lawsuit against HSBC Holdings and its subsidiaries alleging the financial giant supported various drug cartel activities by laundering millions of dollars in money for the gangs.

The plaintiffs include the family of Jaime Zapata, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent from Brownsville who was murdered in San Luis Potosi five years ago; and relatives of Arthur Redelfs and Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, who were gunned down in Ciudad Juárez while fleeing gunmen in broad daylight. The family of Victor Avila, who was Zapata’s partner and was wounded in the attack, is also part of the suit, as is the family of Rafael Morales Valencia, Jr., a New Mexico man kidnapped on his wedding day in 2010 and later found murdered in Ciudad Juárez.

The lawsuit, first reported by Reuters, was filed Tuesday in federal court in Brownsville. The families seek a jury trial and the maximum relief allowed under provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

“During the time period leading up to the attacks on the Victims, HSBC knowingly laundered billions of dollars for the Mexican cartels who committed the attacks, including the Sinaloa, Juárez, and Los Zetas Cartels, knowing or deliberately disregarding the fact that said funds would be used to support the Mexican cartels and their terrorist acts against Mexican and U.S. citizens,” the complaint states.

The multinational financial institution has more than 48 million customers in 72 countries, according to its website. It paid U.S. regulators about $2 billion in December 2012 for its failure to stop drug money from being run through its banks. Calls and emails to the company's media relations department were not immediately returned, but spokesman Gareth Hewett told the Financial Times Wednesday the company would "rigorously defend" itself against the allegations.

The lawsuit alleges that employees of the HSBC banks in Mexico regularly accepted hundreds of thousands or millions of U.S. dollars from people with no source of income and that the cash was often deposited in multiple boxes “designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller windows.” The bank also adopted anti-money laundering programs its employees knew were deficiently designed in order to keep the money-laundering operations going, the suit alleges.

“Under the criminally deficient AML regimes, a culture of recklessness and corruption pervaded HSBC,” the filing alleges.

The 106-page court document reads in parts like an analysis on border crime as it outlines in detail the events that led to the deaths of the U.S. citizens. It then branches out to cover more broadly the crime that’s run rampant in Mexico since the early 2000s, including attacks on public officials, attacks on federal and Texas law enforcement officers, the muzzling of the Mexican media and the numerous mass kidnappings and murders that have taken place in the country.

Agent Zapata’s murder sparked national outrage and reignited the debate about whether the Mexican government should allow foreign agents to arms themselves while on assignment in that country. Zapata and Avila were unarmed when ambushed on a roadside during a trip where they were transporting equipment from Monterrey to Mexico City.

The murder of the Redelfs also garnered national attention after it was discovered Lesley Redelfs was an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juárez. Her husband was a detention officer with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department. Lesley was four months pregnant, and the couple’s infant daughter was found in car when the couple was ambushed.

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