Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) – In a letter to Janet Yellen, the US Treasury Secretary, five US senators have called for sanctions against Tobacco International Holdings Switzerland due to its alleged connections with the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) and the production of fentanyl.
Senators Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Rick Scott, Bill Hagerty, and Bill Cassidy, the authors of the letter, requested that the company and all of its subsidiaries and affiliates be blacklisted by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The senators claimed that the corporation, also known as the Tobacco Cartel, has established a corruption network.
A 2018 journalistic investigation by Carlos Puig and Galia García Palafox, published in Milenio, disclosed how individuals connected to the company impersonated officials and used fraudulent documents to threaten distributors who were not associated with its brands. The goal was to eliminate competition and monopolize the market.
However, the company’s influence reportedly extends beyond the tobacco industry, as it is suspected of aiding the illicit activities of the Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes cartel, known as “El Mencho”, particularly in fentanyl trafficking.
Tobacco International Holdings Switzerland is officially registered in Geneva, Switzerland, with José Guadalupe Varela González as its founder and CEO. The company expanded to Guadalajara, Jalisco, in 2017, as per the Public Registry of Commerce records.
Around this time, false operations linked to the company began to surface, and another significant name, Carlos Cedano Filippini, emerged in this criminal network.
Witnesses cited by Milenio implicated Cedano Filippini in the intimidation of distributors and even identified him as a possible company associate. In 2018, Martha Tagle, then a deputy of Movimiento Ciudadano, requested federal authorities to investigate the company for potential tax evasion and illegal operations.
Tagle revealed that Carlos Cedano Filippini served as a commander of the now-defunct Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) in 2006 and had been deployed to several states, including Veracruz, Tabasco, Jalisco, and Michoacán.
In 2008, he was apprehended by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) during a drug trafficking investigation, carrying around $600,000 which he could not account for. He was prosecuted but later released after posting a $2 million bail.
Cedano Filippini was extradited back to Mexico and, after being held in Nayarit for organized crime and illegal operations, was transferred to the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and dispatched to Michoacán. In 2016, a self-defense group member in the state identified him as the agent chosen by then-Attorney General Martín Godoy to negotiate with the CJNG.
In May 2022, a report by Amílcar Salazar disclosed that Carlos Cedano Filippini and his brothers, Hugo Antonio and Genaro, were allegedly not only extorting merchants on behalf of the CJNG, but also manufacturing TIH cigars through companies including Braxico Manufacturing, Sijara International Manufacturing, and Burley & Virginia Tabaco Company.
In November 2020, this network of companies obtained licenses for over 50 tobacco brands in Mexico, such as Económicos, Laredo, Link, Cherokee, Studio 54, Península, Roma, and Senator.
The US senators, however, voiced their concerns about the potential impacts of this alliance between the Tobacco Cartel and CJNG on public health and security in the US.
They highlighted the substantial revenues that this network could provide for the “Mencho” cartel, suggesting that the production and sale of cigarettes could serve as a legal facade to boost their profits and fund their other operations.
In their letter to the Treasury Department, the senators underscored that the Mexican tobacco industry raked in an estimated $4 billion (over 70 billion pesos) in sales in 2019. They pointed out, “Even a fraction of these sales could finance an unacceptable escalation of CJNG’s fentanyl trafficking operations.”
Using this rationale, they called for OFAC to impose sanctions on TIH, José Guadalupe Varela González, and the Cedano Filippini brothers. They argued that freezing their assets and initiating investigations against them could significantly contribute to the fight against fentanyl.
The senators’ letter reflects their belief that the illicit activities of these entities and individuals pose a significant threat not only to the economic landscape but also to public health and security. The outcome of their plea for sanctions remains to be seen, as it is now in the hands of the Treasury Department to determine the course of action.
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