MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaraguan police found about $7 million in smuggled cash in vans driven by people posing as members of a Mexican television news crew, National Police chief Aminta Granera announced Friday.
The 18 people travelling in six vans were detained Wednesday at Nicaragua's northern border with Honduras, after they entered Nicaragua saying they had come to cover the trial of suspects linked to the 2011 killing of Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral. That trial involves accusations of massive money laundering.
Granera said some of those detained work with private security companies in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas and described one as a police officer in Durango, another northern state. Durango officials denied that man, identified as Cecilio Torres Gutierrez, was a police officer from the state.
Some of the vans were painted with the logo of Mexico's Televisa network, which said it has no connection to the suspects. At least one van carried on its roof what appeared to be the kind of satellite dish that television networks use for remote transmissions.
Televisa said it had no reporters in Nicaragua, nor had it sent anyone there.
Granera said the suspects told police about 25 bundles hidden in the vans that contained the cash.
She said the elaborate ruse was intended to smuggle the cash through Nicaragua to the neighboring nation of Costa Rica to the south.
Mexican drug cartels frequently buy Colombian cocaine to ship north to the U.S. market, and often must smuggle cash proceeds from the drug sales back south to pay the Colombia suppliers.
Granera said Interpol and the Mexican Embassy had confirmed that at least some of the suspects were Mexicans, and that several had been identified as employees of private security firms in Tamaulipas, the northern Mexico border state that is home to the Zetas and Gulf drug cartels.
The suspects told border guards they were entering Nicaragua to cover the drug-trafficking and organized-crime trial of suspects linked to Cabral's killing. Officials say the gang that allegedly carried out that attack was in fact targeting a man riding with Cabral that day, Henry Farinas.
Prosecutors allege that Farinas was an associate of the gang along with Costa Rican Alejandro Jimenez Gonzalez, who allegedly ordered the attack on Farinas in retaliation for a purported betrayal.
Trial documents in the case against a total of 24 defendants suggest the gang laundered more than $1 billion through Nicaraguan financial institutions.