Mexican Businessman, Others Face US Charges In $100 Million Laundering Scheme

A Mexico-based businessman has been arrested in the United States on charges that he and five others engaged in a scheme to fraudulently obtain tax refunds from the Mexican government and launder over $100 million.

Carlos Djemal, who according to court papers acquired Mexican-based InvestaBank SA in 2014, was arrested in Chicago and charged in a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court that was made public late on Monday.

InvestaBank was established in 2014 from the acquisition of Royal Bank of Scotland’s operations in Mexico. InvestaBank last week said it had agreed to buy two Mexican units of Deutsche Bank AG.

Three other men — Max Fraenkel, Daniel Blitzer and Robert Moreno were also arrested, according to the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Two other men were also charged including Isidoro Haiat, who court documents said acquired InvestaBank with Djemal.

InvestaBank Chief Executive Officer Enrique Vilatela in an interview called Djemal’s arrest a “surprise,” adding that he was one of 38 partners in the bank. Haiat, he said, died a year ago from an illness.

Lawyers for the defendants could not be immediately identified.

Prosecutors said that from 2011 to 2016, the defendants engaged in a scheme to defraud the Mexican government of tax revenue relating to its value added tax (VAT) and then launder the scheme’s proceeds throughout the United States and Mexico.

Prosecutors said the defendants created dozens of front companies that claimed to be doing business as cellular phone importers and exporters in order to fraudulently obtain VAT refunds from the Mexican government.

As part of the scheme, Djemal and Haiat had the front companies buy outdated cellular phones which were then exported to U.S.-based companies operated by others involved in the scheme.

While exporting the phones, Djemal and Haiat obtained fraudulent invoices and created other documents in order to fraudulently boost the phones’ value, enabling them to seek inflated VAT refunds, prosecutors said.

During the scheme, Djemal and Haiat owned a Mexican company that handled administrative details of the conspiracy, the complaint said.

hey also owned a currency exchange, Casa de Cambio Tiber, S.A., de C.V., which was used together with InvestaBank to transfer funds to the front companies, the complaint said.

In total, more than $100 million was moved through dozens of accounts maintained by front companies, prosecutors said. Five of the front companies received about $21 million in VAT refunds, the complaint said.

The case is U.S. v. Djemal, et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-mj-6976.

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