A Guatemalan man with suspected ties to Mexico’s Los Zetas cartel has been designated by the Treasury Department as a narcotics trafficker, the agency announced Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Horst Walter Overdick Mejia, allegedly a critical link between Colombian drug producers and the Los Zetas cartel, as a major drug trafficking target and, under the Kingpin Act, is now prohibited with doing any business with U.S. citizens.
The act also freezes any assets Overdick Mejia may have in the United States.
"Overdick Mejia’s drug trafficking activities and close ties to the Los Zetas makes him a dangerous and critical figure in the Central American narcotics trade," OFAC Director Adam J. Szubin, said in a press release. "By designating Overdick Mejia, OFAC is demonstrating its support for the Guatemalan government in its struggle against the threats and violence posed by these international drug gangs."
Early last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York unsealed an indictment for Overdick Mejia’s drug trafficking and firearms activities, with Guatemalan authorities arresting him on April 3.
Believed to run a major drug trafficking and money laundering organization in Guatemala, Overdick Mejia is suspected to have used his experience as a spice buyer, his local contacts and his business insight to smuggle thousands of kilograms of cocaine into Mexico and the United States.
"Overdick Mejia was a vital link between Colombian drug producers and Mexican cartels such as Los Zetas. This case is yet another example of the united front that law enforcement and regulators must utilize to ensure that organizations such as this one are put out of business forever," said DEA Chief of Financial Operations John Arvanitis in a press release.
Overdick Mejia is believed to have brought the Zetas to Guatemala in 2008 to eliminate a rival trafficker and is now suspected to be the Mexican cartel’s most important ally in the Central American nation.
Guatemala has become a hotbed for drug-related violence as authorities in Mexico crackdown on the cartels operating in the country. The Zetas have been described by the DEA as perhaps "the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and violent of these paramilitary enforcement groups."
"It might not be an exaggeration to say the Zetas are among the most vicious drug cartel to ever emerge. Not only have they been able to establish drug-trafficking routes through Guatemala and Nicaragua into Mexico," The security website InSightCrime.org wrote. "But recent reports indicate that they may have co-opted a cocaine trafficking route via Venezuela-West Africa into Europe, representing yet another lucrative market for the organization."
The Associated Press also reported last week that the Zetas had made an alliance in Guatemala with the Mara Salvatrucha gang. More commonly known as MS-13, Mara Salvatrucha was originally founded in the 1990s by gang members in southern California and quickly spread throughout Central America when the members were deported.
According to the news service, secret jailhouse recording and a turncoat kidnapper have described a pact between leaders of the Maras and the Zetas.
Eduardo Velasco, head of a Guatemala’s Interior Ministry task force on organized crime, told the AP that local authorities believed the Maras' training by the Zetas has led to an increase brutality, planning, organization and firepower of Maras' operations in the country.
"As a result of this union with the Zetas, the Mara Salvatrucha have more ability to organize, strategize and maneuver," Velasco said. "The Mara Salvatrucha want to build up their inventory of long-range weapons, grenades and drugs for their own use and for sale ... they know the economic benefit is great for them and that the Zetas, as an outside group, need the Maras' network in order to grow inside Guatemala."