‘Bureaucratic Sloth’ Sank Probe Into Drug Money

     HOUSTON (CN) – The U.S. government has run out of time to investigate the foreign bank accounts of a man with suspected ties to a multimillion-dollar drug deal, a federal judge ruled.
     In 2005 the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service launched an investigation into an unnamed businessman and his company, suspecting money from a drug deal had been deposited into the company’s bank account, according to a July 2 ruling from U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes.
     The names of the company and owner are not revealed in the document, as prosecutors have not yet filed charges in the case.
     Though neither the owner nor his company have reported any foreign bank accounts to the U.S. Department of Treasury since 2001, account records potentially show a transfer of more than $73 million from the company’s HSBC account in Mexico, according to the ruling. The investigation may also show the owner and company had four other accounts with banks in Mexico.
     Federal prosecutors started their investigation in 2005, but they waited until 2012 to send the Mexican government a formal request for records from two accounts in Mexico.
     In November 2012 Mexican officials responded, stating they did not find any records for those accounts, nor did they find any bank accounts held by the man or his company.
     At the end of November 2012 federal prosecutors sent the Mexican government a more detailed request for documents from four accounts. Earlier this year, they received records for one account from Mexican officials.
     The government submitted an ex-parte application asking for a suspension of the statute of limitations without notice to the suspects.
     Hughes took prosecutors to task, however, for their seven-year delay in requesting the Mexican bank records.
     “Courts are not authorized to suspend the time limit to excuse inept investigations and bureaucratic sloth,” Hughes wrote. “The opportunity for the government to bring these crimes will pass for reasons unconnected to the timing of Mexico’s response to requests for documents. Mexico responded within five months to the first request for documents and responded with documents within six months to the second request. The time will pass because of what the United States has not done. Three agencies – Internal Revenue, Drug Enforcement and Justice – have had seven years.”
     “To hold otherwise would be to eviscerate the statues of limitations for crimes with evidence abroad,” he added. “As in this case, it would get a three-year extension by filing a request for records abroad. Rather than prosecuting cases with vigor and duty, the government could defer a decision to charge crimes by requesting documents from another country on the eve of the deadline for filing. The only reason to suspend limitations must be because the government is waiting on another country to respond to a prompt, responsible request-not because the government waited until the last minute to ask.”

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