Dead Man ……

Dead Man

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Johnny Depp (William Blake), Gary Farmer (Nobody), Crispin Glover (Train Fireman), Lance Henriksen (Cole Wilson), Michael Wincott (Conway Twill), Eugene Byrd (Johnny “The Kid” Pickett), John Hurt (John Scholfield), Robert Mitchum (John Dickinson), Iggy Pop (Salvatore “Sally” Jenko), Gabriel Byrne (Charlie Dickinson), Jared Harris (Benmont Tench), Mili Avital (Thel Russell)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1995
Country: U.S. / Germany / Japan
Dead Man Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Dead ManDead Man, Jim Jarmusch’s fifth feature, was also the idiosyncratic indie auteur’s first genre film—or, should I say, first anti-genre film—and, to date, his only film set in the past. A classical Western in terms of its iconographic elements, Dead Man exists primarily to undercut the values, ideals, and expectations of that most cherished of classical American genres, reveling in the filth, blood, grime, and desolation of the conquered West before setting out on an existential, perhaps metaphysical, journey to the verdant Pacific Northwest. If that doesn’t sound like much fun, it isn’t, at least in a literal sense, although it’s hard not to admire Jarmusch’s sense of generic transgression while still keeping true to his own poetic sensibilities.

The story opens with the titular character dead man, a mild-manner accountant named William Blake (Johnny Depp), who spends the film’s lengthy (some might say interminable) opening minutes riding on a train from Cleveland, Ohio, to Machine, a small, dingy frontier town somewhere in the desert Southwest. Having recently lost his parents and sold all his possessions, he is a young man going West to claim an accounting job at Dickinson Metalworks, a smoke-churning, iron-clanging outpost of ruthless capitalism that appears to be the sole reason for the town’s sordid existence. One might suspect that the lengthy opening sequence on the train was designed primarily to alert viewers to what is to come, just in case anyone wandered in expecting a traditional Western, rather than Jarmusch’s black-and-white existential noodling in that genre’s fabled terrain scored entirely by the raucous power chords of Neil Young’s electric guitar. Jarmusch has a way with time and taking his time, and he loves nothing more than eccentric, oddball, unsettling, or otherwise intriguing characters doing their own thing, which is why a significant portion of the opening sequence involves Blake talking with the train’s soot-covered fireman (Crispin Glover). Certain important narrative information is dispensed in their dialogue, sure, but I also suspect that Jarmusch just liked the wonderfully odd visual and tonal conflict between Depp’s button-down, bespectacled reserve and Glover’s blackface weirdness.

When Blake arrives in Machine, he discovers that his job has already been given to someone else, which leaves him literally stranded in the desert. A chance encounter with a woman named Thel (Mili Avital) and later her violent paramour Charlie (Gabriel Byrne) result in Blake getting a bullet in his chest and his face plastered on a wanted poster for murder. His would-be employer, the vicious, cigar-chomping tycoon John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum, in his last screen appearance), becomes his hunter, hiring a gang of mercenaries led by Cole Wilson (Lance Henriksen) to track him down and bring him back dead or alive. Blake finds an unlike ally in Nobody (Gary Farmer), a portly Native American who has been outcast because his mother and father were from different tribes (Blackfoot and Crow) and now wanders the countryside with no particular aim. While Nobody at first dismisses Blake as yet another “stupid fucking white man,” he changes his tune when he learns his name and becomes convinced that he is the reincarnation of the mystical poet and painter William Blake, which Nobody, of course, can quote by heart (the film is a literary geek’s cornucopia of allusions to Blake’s art, from imagery, to character names, to lines of dialogue).

That is pretty much the plot, and while much of it is quite conventional by Jarmusch’s standards, it nevertheless maintains his typical anti-narrative approach that privileges character over story and, in this case, mysticism over reality. With the bullet in his chest, Blake is essentially a dead man (or, perhaps, already a dead man) moving slowly toward his imminent demise, but not before he comes across all manner of oddball characters lurking in the margins of the Old West, including a band of outlaws led by a cross-dresser named Salvatore “Sally” Jenko (Iggy Pop). Depp, who was at the height of his eccentric indie character-actor stardom, having recently appeared in Benny & Joon (1993), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), Ed Wood (1994), and Don Juan DeMarco (1995), makes for a compelling central character who undergoes a rather astonishing transformation from bumbling, introverted victim, to unfairly accused killer, to actual killer, to transcendent subject. His interactions with Farmer’s Nobody, a character that is designed to undermine all the stereotypes and clichés associated with Indians in the Western, are both humorous and increasingly touching, even if their conversations often verge into the abstract or the absurd.

Working again with German cinematographer Robby Müller, who previous shot Down by Law (1986) and Mystery Train (1989), Jarmusch turns the film’s various landscapes into an evocative dreamworld that feels like an Ansel Adams photo in motion. The high-contrast black-and-white cinematography has the effect of rendering the familiar—forest, mountains, rivers—downright otherworldly, which underscores the film’s spiritual dimension and deep distrust of the destructive nature of humankind. Unlike Jarmusch’s previous films, Dead Man is violent—graphically, at times shockingly so—which stands in stark contrast to the moody beauty of the world in which the blood is shed. It’s not always a particularly pleasant experience, but Dead Man is a singular piece of generic transgression, making the unmaking of the West—something that filmmakers had been doing to various degrees for decades—feel shockingly, aggressively, and poetically new.

Dead Man Criterion Collection Director-Approved Blu-ray
Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround
Subtitles English
  • Selected-scene audio commentary by production designer Bob Ziembicki and sound mixer Drew Kunin
  • Q&A in which writer/director Jim Jarmusch responds to questions sent in by fans
  • Footage of Neil Young composing and performing the film’s score
  • Video interview with actor Gary Farmer
  • New readings of William Blake poems by members of the cast, including Mili Avital, Alfred Molina, and Iggy Pop
  • Deleted scenes
  • Jarmusch’s location scouting photos
  • Essays by film critic Amy Taubin and music journalist Ben Ratliff
Distributor The Criterion Collection
SRP $39.95
Release Date April 24, 2018
Criterion’s Blu-ray of Dead Man features a new 4K digital restoration, supervised and approved by director Jim Jarmusch, that was taken from the original 35mm camera negative. The result is astonishingly gorgeous, giving Robby Müller’s instantly memorable high-contrast cinematography its full due with almost perfect whites and inky blacks. Detail is impressive throughout, which helps us appreciate both the grungy grime of Machine and the lush beauty of the northern California redwood forest. I don’t think you could ask for the film to look any better The original stereo soundtrack has been mastered from the 35mm magnetic tracks and is presented in a clean, rich DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Neil Young’s jangling guitar chords feel deep and immersive, although it is the quieter scenes filled with various environmental sonic details that really stand out. The supplements are diverse and plentiful, starting with a 47-minute audio Q&A in which Jarmusch responds to questions sent in by fans (something he has done on several of his previous Criterion editions, as well). There are also 25 minutes of rarely seen footage of Neil Young composing and performing the film’s score, a new video interview with actor Gary Farmer (27 min.), and readings of William Blake poems by members of the cast, including Mili Avital, Alfred Molina, and Iggy Pop (8 min.). Production designer Bob Ziembicki and sound mixer Drew Kunin contribute a selected scene audio commentary that is obviously heavy on the details of the production, but also includes some great anecdotes and ruminations about the film’s various meanings. There are 15 minutes of deleted scenes, all of which are in pretty poor condition; a gallery of Jarmusch’s location scouting photos; and the original theatrical trailer.

Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick

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All images copyright © The Criterion Collection


Chile Dismantles ‘First’ Arms Trafficking Ring Importing US Weapons

Authorities in Chile handle weapons seized from an arms trafficking network

Authorities in Chile say they have uncovered the first international arms trafficking network importing guns from the United States to be resold in the South American nation, illustrating how crime groups across Latin America have taken advantage of lax US gun laws to supply the region with illicit weapons.

The organized crime division of Chile’s investigative police dismantled an arms trafficking ring linked to three shipments containing 18 firearms, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunitions, other firearm accessories and eight luxury vehicles that were seized by police over the course of a four-month investigation dubbed “Operation Houston,” La Tercera reported.

According to a press release from Chile’s customs agency, the investigation began in January 2018 after authorities intercepted a shipment of four automatic pistols at the international airport in the capital Santiago.

Authorities have linked the shipments to a criminal group known as “Los Pachucos” operating in the city of Maipú in central Chile just southwest of Santiago, according to La Tercera. The group has been involved in petty crimes in the area since the 1990s.

Beginning in 2015, Los Pachucos allegedly started to expand their criminal portfolio. The group’s leader, Mauricio Pavez Becerra, moved to Houston to capitalize on lax US gun laws and start shipping weapons back to Chile hidden in electronic devices like DVD players and radios, according to La Tercera.

Los Pachucos also allegedly partnered with a Chilean car importer named Fernando Cabrera who operated in the northern port city of Arica to introduce the weapons into the country. According to La Tercera, Pavez Becerra would transfer the weapons from Houston to Miami where a middleman by the name of Jean Pierre Allende Sáez would hide them in the interiors of cars and trucks that were to be imported to Chile in shipping containers by boat.

Pavez Becerra allegedly acquired the guns for $500 in Texas. Los Pachucos would then resell the weapons at a marked up price of 1.5 million Chilean pesos (around $2,400) to local criminals operating in Santiago and Valparaíso along Chile’s Pacific coast, according to La Tercera.

Authorities have charged 12 individuals with arms trafficking, illicit association and money laundering, among other charges, according to an Interior Ministry press release. However, the middleman between Pavez Becerra and the Chilean car importer remains a fugitive in the United States, according to La Tercera.

InSight Crime Analysis

Although Chilean authorities said this is the first time they have discovered an arms trafficking ring with a connection to the United States, the exploitation of loose US gun laws and the methods used by the trafficking network are actually quite common across the region.

Trafficking US firearms to Latin America disguised in shipments of other goods with metal components is a method frequently used by traffickers. And other smugglers have previously used the busy port city of Miami, which sees huge trade flows with Latin America.

In February 2017, for example, US authorities dismantled a trafficking ring that was shipping firearms and ammunition disguised in packages of empty car batteries from Miami to Maracaibo, Venezuela. A Brazilian trafficking network uncovered last year also shipped guns through Miami.

Weekly InSight: The Bloody Road to Mexico’s Election

In our May 10 Facebook Live session, Senior Investigator Deborah Bonello and Managing Editor Josefina Salomón discussed the challenging environment in Mexico as the country prepares for July 1 elections.

The vote, through which 18,000 public officials, including a new president, will be chosen, will take place against the backdrop of one of Mexico’s worst security crises in decades — 2017 was the country’s most homicidal year in recent history.

Politicians and candidates have been hard hit. At least 93 were killed in recent months, according to an investigation by the consultancy firm Etellekt, reported by El Economista.

During the first part of the conversation, Salomón and Bonello, who is based in Mexico City, talked about the changing criminal dynamics behind the rise in violence in Mexico, including the fragmentation of criminal groups as a result of the capture of a number of leaders. They also analyzed the feasibility of the proposals presented by various candidates to tackle the country’s security crisis.

In the second part of the discussion, they analyzed what changes in strategy in the future could improve Mexico’s security situation.

Watch the full conversation below:

Part 1:

Part 2:


Brazil Police, Politician Tied to High-Profile Rio Activist’s Murder

New witness testimony suggests the high-profile assassination of a city councilwoman and her driver in Brazil was a coordinated plot among militarypolice, militia members and a city councilman, underscoring the violence used by the country’s militias for political ends.

One current and one former military police officer, as well as two individuals linked to former police officer and imprisoned militia member Orlando Oliveira de Araújo, also known as “Orlando de Curicica,” were allegedly in the car used to commit the March murder of Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes, according to testimony obtained by O Globo.

The witness also alleged that Rio city councilman Marcello Siciliano, a colleague of Franco who has been accused of having links to militia groups, held several meetings in 2017 with Oliveira de Araújo to plot the murder, according to Reuters.

Siciliano has denied these allegations and claimed that his “relationship with Marielle was very good.” In a letter obtainedby O Dia, Oliveira de Araújo also denied involvment in Franco’s murder and said that he did not know her or Siciliano.*

The recent revelations add to previous evidence indicating Franco’s murder was carried out with the participation of a militia, a term used in Brazil to describe vigilante-type groups usually comprised of current and former security force members with varying degrees of political connections.

A May 6 report from Record TV revealed that ballistic tests show that the murder weapon used to carry out the assassination was a Heckler & Koch MP5 — a German-made submachine gun supposed to be used exclusively by security forces in Brazil — and not a handgun as was originally thought. Both the MP5 and the pistol previously thought to be the murder weapon use 9mm ammunition.

It was also discovered that five security cameras positioned on the route that Franco and her driver were taking on the night of their murder were turned off between 24 and 48 hours before the assassination took place, O Globo reportedseparately. One of these cameras was reportedly located precisely where the murder took place.

The murder of Franco — an outspoken critic of militias, police violence, corruption and other social problems — drew international attention, and has put pressure on authorities to find the killers. But nearly two months after the slaying, police have yet to make any arrests in the case.

InSight Crime Analysis

The murder of councilwoman Franco and her driver illustrates how militia groups in Brazil, at times in collusion with politicians, use violence to achieve political ends.

Militias have long used their control over certain areas of Rio as a bargaining chip in dealings with politicians. In exchange for political cover for their criminal activities, militias carry out electoral dirty work, like intimidating voters and preventing other candidates from campaigning. More recently, militias have been accused of bankrolling their own candidates for office and targeting political opponents for assassination.

Previous assassinations linked to militias in Rio have not targeted figures with the type of name recognition as Franco, suggesting that widespread impunity may be encouraging these groups to become bolder in their use of political violence.

* Update, May 11, 2018: This article was updated to include Oliveira de Araújo’s denial.

Home  News  Analysis  Coca, Cocaine and Guerrillas: Capturing the ‘Lost War’

Coca, Cocaine and Guerrillas: Capturing the ‘Lost War’

We stayed longer than we should have. It was always like that with Carlos Villalon. That’s what he does. He stays longer than anybody should.

On that occasion, back in 2005, we were in Putumayo with guerrillas from the 45th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) along the Ecuadorean border.

Carlos and I were doing work for the Miami Herald. We had traveled there with our colleague Karl Penhaul, who was working with CNN at the time, to see how the FARC was responding to an army offensive in what was, at the time, Colombia’s largest coca-producing department.

The army had established its base in a small village. On the other side of the river Rumiyaco, across a wooden footbridge, the rebels had been holding them at bay. We had crossed the river a couple of days before and spent time with the guerrillas as they maneuvered in area responsible for the production of nearly a third of Colombia’s cocaine.

They were well equipped with grenade launchers and plenty of munitions. But they were no match for Black Hawk helicopters, and when the military started its offensive to retake the area, we found ourselves on the wrong side of the bridge.

The guerrillas scrambled, and initially, we scrambled with them. As they began retreating towards the border with Ecuador, through the thick Putumayo brush, Carlos, Karl and I started a conversation (in English): Do we go into Ecuador with them? What if the helicopters start strafing this column? How can we get back across that bridge without getting shot?

I remember that it was getting dark. When it gets dark in the jungle, you cannot see the hand in front of your face much less what is front of your feet. The rebel walking in front of me — a female soldier who may have reached the height of my shoulder — was moving at a furious clip, and I was tripping as my shins were slamming into the high roots of the increasingly invisible trees. I had it easy. Carlos, who just ahead of me, was lugging all his cameras and film. Karl had video equipment.

At a certain point, after going back and forth among ourselves about staying or leaving the FARC, we decided it was safer to try to return to the military side before dark. We bid the rebels farewell. By the time we made it back to the bridge, helicopters were flying overhead towards where we’d left the guerrillas. Heavy fighting hadn’t yet begun, but we could see the army positioned on the other side of the river.

To figure out who would go first, we used the same system any three friends would: rock, paper, scissors. The odd person would take the lead. Karl lost. He removed his white T-shirt and began swinging it over his head as he walked slowly across the bridge yelling “periodista!” (journalist). Carlos and I followed, swinging our shirts and yelling “periodistas.” The army held its fire.

That was not an unusual trip with Carlos. He and I went to numerous places in Colombia together. We also traveled together to Haiti, where once more than a few men turned their guns and machetes towards us.


In all of these trips, Carlos stayed, perhaps a little longer than he should, but he stayed. It is one of the things that makes him such an incredible photographer. But it isn’t the only thing.

Carlos has the ability to make you forget he is holding his camera, even when he is pointing it right at your face or running through the dark jungle. He has a hard exterior and an expressionless face that reminds many of the actor Antonio Banderas, but he softens with his subjects, and they relax. Then he shoots — softly, subtly.

As is evident in this short collection about coca and cocaine that he hopes to publish in a book, the images are timeless depictions of life on the edge, along the most infamous value chain in the world.

Carlos spent nearly two decades chronicling this market, from the coca growers to the traffickers to the users. It moves us beyond the numbers, the policies, the wargames, the posturing, the chemicals, the private contractors and the activists, and gets us to where it matters the most: the humans whose lives hang in the balance because of this illicit trade.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m objective. Carlos is a friend and longtime colleague, who has dragged me in and out of conflict zones on more than one occasion. But I am a journalist who has seen what this illegal market has wrought. And Carlos has been right there with me, and well beyond, staying way too long.

*Support Carlos Villalon’s Kickstarter campaign to publish his book here.

How Billions in Dirty Cash Flowed Through Peru’s Biggest Banks

Secret documents leaked to OjoPúblico reveal that more than $2.2 billion linked to suspected criminal activity entered Peru’s financial system through clients with alleged ties to drug trafficking, illegal gold mining, tax evasion and corruption.

OjoPúblico reached out to Banco de Crédito del Perú and BBVA Continental, the country’s two main banks, to learn more about why they accepted clients linked to organized crime. The banks declined to respond, citing financial secrecy laws.

The investigation reveals the banking system’s role in money laundering by organized crime groups and inaction by Peru’s only state oversight entity, the Superintendency of Banks, Insurance and Pension Funds (Superintendencia de Banca, Seguros y AFP – SBS), revealing multiple cases of noncompliance with regulations intended to combat such crimes.

*This article was originally published by OjoPúblico and was translated, edited and reprinted by InSight Crime with permission. It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

OjoPúblico obtained access to secret documents from Peru’s Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera – UIF), a key player in the country’s fight against money laundering. The documents show that at least $2.2 billion from allegedly illegal activities entered the financial system since 1998.

Based on the UIF documents and numerous statements from Peruvian anti-narcotics police, OjoPúblico created a preliminary list of banking clients with suspicious financial histories. The list highlights individuals and companies that US agencies, including the Justice and Treasury departments, have accused of laundering money from illegal mining or drug trafficking.

After an analysis of more than 400 banking client profiles and suspicious transactions, OjoPúblico narrowed its focus to the two largest banks in Peru: BBVA Continental and the Banco de Crédito del Perú (BCP). Other cases were detected in Scotiabank and Interbank.

In recent decades the US government and various European regulatory entities have filed criminal charges or issued sanctions reaching millions of dollars against banks for associating with criminal groups to launder money or violating practices to combat money laundering. Charges or sanctions have been leveled against such institutions as the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in the 1980s, HSBC in 2008 for laundering Mexican cartel money, and most recently Banca Privada de Andorra (BPA) and Meinl Bank, which were used by Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht to pay bribes throughout Latin America.

The Peruvian government passed legislation giving the SBS the authority to punish institutions for banking irregularities in an effort to prevent money laundering. But although the regulations require spotless conduct on the part of banking employees, diligence in identifying illicit behavior and knowledge of clients’ financial activities and public ties to criminal organizations, they are lenient given that the highest fine is only $130,000.

The cases published by OjoPúblico provide an unprecedented look into the types of clients the financial system — particularly BCP and BBVA — accepted and the allegedly unlawful operations they conducted. They also reveal deficiencies in the anti-money laundering system, such as lack of awareness of clients’ high-risk status, failure to detect the extent of penetration of dirty money and failure to address allegations linking bank officials to criminal groups.

Violation 1: Know Your Customer

Key Latin American drug trafficking figures at both the local and international level are among the clients identified as having carried out unusual banking activities at BCP and BBVA. Also on the list are the companies through which the same figures allegedly laundered their ill-gotten funds, including real estate, air transport and currency exchange businesses in Peru’s capital, Lima.

Sistema de Distribución Mundial, a front company for laundering the money of one of the most powerful drug traffickers in Peru, Fernando Zevallos Gonzales, alias “Lunarejo,” was a client of BCP, BBVA and Banco Wiese (owned by and rebranded as Scotiabank as of 2006). The majority shareholder in the company was the now defunct AeroContinente, which Zevallos founded and led. All told, the company made suspicious movements totaling $27 million between 2000 and 2004 in these three banks.

The US Treasury Department included Sistema de Distribución Mundial on its list of “derivative designations” under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, and it has played a part in a money laundering investigation currently underway against Zevallos. Meanwhile, investigations by Peru’s anti-narcotics police indicate that Lunarejo ordered the murders of witnesses to his alleged criminal activities at almost the same time that Sistema de Distribución Mundial received or transferred dirty money via BCP, BBVA and Banco Wiese.

Zevallos’ criminal record for drug trafficking dates back to 1982, and he has been implicated in the 1989 killing of journalist Todd Carper Smith and other unresolved murders in the city of Lima and Huallaga province. The UIF documents show he allegedly used Sistema de Distribución Mundial as a front to move $20.3 million through BBVA, $5.3 million through Banco Wiese and $1.5 million through BCP. Since 2005, Lunarejo has been serving a 20-year sentence for drug trafficking and faces possible extradition to the United States.

Another notable client to appear in the UIF documents was the network of Peruvian currency exchange houses linked to Chilean Mauricio Mazza-Alaluf, who has been indicted by the US Justice Department and accused of laundering moneyfor Colombian criminal groups including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). Over 150 people in Peru were involved in the exchange houses, which deposited $369 million into accounts with BCP, BBVA and other financial entities. The network’s modus operandi was to transport bills — either stacked in suitcases or glued to the body — through airports in Peru, Chile, Colombia and the United States, leaving the cash in exchange houses in the destination countries, then dividing it up into successive deposits and transfers.

BBVA’s client list also included Global Trade Import and Export, which was run by a drug trafficking group that orchestrated one of the most memorable drug shipments in Peruvian history. The company attempted to ship 4.3 tons of liquid cocaine to Spain by hiding it in 8,000 cans of artichokes. UIF documents state that this shell company was only one operation in a more than 100-member organization that used “the banking system … to facilitate its criminal activity.”

Violation 2: Suspicious Activity Reports

As the banking oversight body in Peru, the SBS is tasked with preventing money laundering within the country’s financial system, including its banks, municipal and rural credit institutions, and small business development entities, among other institutions. In response to an inquiry, the SBS informed OjoPúblico that only 16 sanctions have been issued within the financial system since 2002, including four against BCP for failure to prevent money laundering. BBVA has only received one reprimand.

However, an analysis of the documents — cross-checked with reports from the Peruvian anti-narcotics police, the National Superintendency of Tax Administration (SUNAT), the money laundering unit of the Attorney General’s Office and the well-known Panama Papers — allowed OjoPúblico to identify cases in which banking institutions like BCP and BBVA violated one of the most important of Peru’s anti-money laundering measures: notifying the UIF of suspicious transactions within the maximum warning periods required.

For the last 20 years, management or compliance divisions for the prevention of money laundering in the financial system and related companies were required to report suspicious transactions to the UIF within 30 days no matter how great the amount of money. In 2017 that period was shortened to 24 hours.

According to OjoPúblico’s analysis, there were hundreds of cases in which institutions in Peru’s banking system notified the UIF of irregular transactions with suspected ties to organized crime and tax evasion an average of four months after they occurred or were known to have occurred, in other words, five times the maximum period allowed by the SBS for such notifications. In some situations, the delay was as long as five years, and in others the bank only sent a notification after receiving a warning itself.

OjoPúblico detected this pattern of late reporting — considered a serious violation resulting in the maximum $130,000 fine — in some of the most important money laundering cases in recent years.

OjoPúblico identified cases in which banking institutions like BCP and BBVA violated one of the most important of Peru’s anti-money laundering measures.

According to the UIF documents, one of BCP’s clients was alleged Peruvian drug trafficker Paul Chinchay Echevarría, who was convicted of human trafficking in Italy. BCP took a year and four months (491 days) to report Chinchay to the UIF, and by the time they did — for suspicious transactions totaling more than $178 million — he had already been detained and indicted on other criminal charges.

In 2002, Peru’s anti-narcotics police targeted a currency exchange organization for the first time for laundering drug trafficking money, later considered a key link in a network of Latin American money transfer businesses. The suspects in the investigation were Percy Velit Núñez — a BBVA client from July 2006 until his arrest in May 2008 — and his sons Sandro and Percy Velit, linked to Amasban S.A. and Money Express SRL in Lima.

When the investigation went public in 2008, the police and the Attorney General’s Office had already established that the Velit family’s currency exchange houses were laundering money for Colombian criminal organizations. Despite this revelation, BBVA did not freeze the Velit Núñez accounts, even when its own money laundering prevention unit sent its first alert to the UIF in October 2006 for frequent, unexplained national and international transfers.

Another warning for suspicious banking activity by Velit Núñez was delivered to the UIF by BBVA in June 2008. But that was a year after the previous warning, and in response to media reports on his arrest in connection with the anti-narcotics police investigation into the family behind the currency exchange houses. The head of the group of suspects was Chilean Mauricio Mazza-Alaluf, who was tried and convicted in the United States.

Violation 3: Lack of Due Diligence

Analysis of the UIF documents provides an uncensored look at BCP and BBVA’s questionable handling of prevention and compliance when they discovered that a client was conducting suspicious banking activity. The documents show, for example, instances of warning clients, by phone or other means, when they detect unusual transactions, even when the banks have clear evidence that the client is a front man, having no financial history and residing in poor Lima neighborhoods or even informal housing settlements.

In the cases OjoPúblico analyzed, BCP compliance management sent letters to some of its clients in Lima to inform them of unusual transactions and to give them an opportunity to explain them. The letters are quoted as saying, “Dear sir, we are writing to express our appreciation for the trust you have placed in us when conducting your banking transactions through our institution. The aforementioned transactions are for significant amounts.”

OjoPúblico examined the profiles of the BCP clients who received the letters and discovered that most were between 20 and 23 years old, they were not registered as employed and they had no financial history, yet they were able to move more than $3.4 million in national and international transactions in just a few months. Analysis of these cases leads to the conclusion that effective processes and due diligence in preventing money laundering are significantly lacking, especially if the banks warn the suspects beforehand.

When the banks inform their clients of the suspicious transactions they detected, some will inevitably take measures to hide the source of their funds. In one case, Interbank contacted a suspected member of a group that smuggled products out of Bolivia. A total of $2.3 million had been deposited into that client’s accounts.

According to the UIF report, in the telephone call Interbank made to the client, the bank employee informed the alleged smuggler of the suspicious transactions and requested an explanation. The client admitted that the money came from illegal sales of soy on the Bolivian border, but refused to provide the name of the company behind the operations. Interbank reported the incident, but not until five months after the last suspicious transaction.

After receiving Interbank’s report on the incident, the UIF concluded that the smugglers might be “using or attempting to use another financial institution due to the level of funds they were managing and the apparent necessity to move them quickly.”

BCP compliance management sent letters to some of its clients in Lima to inform them of unusual transactions and to give them an opportunity to explain them.

Criminal activities also expose loopholes in the existing regulations, a sure sign that they are in need of revision. Analyses revealed that BCP holds on to reports on its clients’ suspicious transactions for ten years in accordance with the regulations. However, this can become problematic when the UIF investigates individuals suspected of crimes over longer periods of time, such as when it requested information from BCP in 2008 on a high-level army official who had received $11 million in payments to his account after he was appointed mayor of the provincial capital of Bagua in the region of Amazonas.

The UIF first learned about the case of Army Colonel José Sánchez Marín (now retired) in a suspicious transaction report from BCP in 2005. At the time, it requested older banking information, suspecting the military official may also have irregularities in his banking history from his term in the same city during the 1990s. But BCP responded that it was not required to maintain information for longer than 10 years and only sent a few withdrawal checks.

Later, the UIF managed to learn that the army official remained with BCP until 2008, when the bank issued a new report on him. Before the first suspicious report in 2005, Sánchez Marín, already retired, had made investments in Credicorp, Backus and Telefónica that could not be supported by his income. He then let the money sit until he withdrew a portion in 2005. Afterwards, he invested that money in a mutual fund with Credifondo, which was reported because the amounts of those transactions could not be supported either.

Violation 4: Employee Vetting

The UIF documents also call into question whether the financial system has fulfilled its requirement to maintain a high level of integrity in its personnel. OjoPúblico found four cases in which BCP and BBVA employees, some of them working in high-risk regions like Áncash and Loreto, belonged to organized crime groups.

In the first case, a UIF report identified a BCP employee in Chimbote, Áncash, as a mafia group’s “financial advisor.” The group injected millions of dollars into the system through irregular transfers from Colombia using dozens of front men without any financial history or credit. The intelligence document sent to the Attorney General’s Office contains conclusive evidence against the bank employee.

“The organization may be using Jimi [Henry] Orellana Domínguez, a BCP official and recipient of $425,000 dollars in transfers from Colombia for consulting services, [because he] ‘requested information’ on alleged organized crime members from the Serviban [now Western Union] agency in Chimbote. Given that, as a banking official, he knows about the anti-money laundering controls in the system, it could be assumed that he may have advised [the organization] to deposit $5.8 million dollars into the financial system. These are aggravating circumstances considering he is [a BCP] agent,” the document states.

Orellana Domínguez was a BCP employee between 1999 and 2009, when he joined the José Gálvez de Chimbote soccer club and gained regional fame as its manager. During that time Orellana was implicated in an alleged prostitution ring possibly involving minors.

Another case links criminal groups to BBVA. In 2009, the Attorney General’s Office identified Sergio Cisneros Francia, current branch manager in the San Isidro district of Lima province, as having collaborated with the group behind Global Trade Import and Export and one of the largest attempted drug shipments in Peruvian history. Case documents reveal that, “as a BBVA manager, he may have helped Jorge Luis González Sánchez and Alex Ángel Montoya Agüero with the legal procedures to set up Global Trade Import and Export.”

Later, in September 2017, Peru’s anti-narcotics police seized 4.3 tons of cocaine hidden in canned artichokes bound for Spain. The exporter? BBVA client Global Trade Import and Export. After the operation, the Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation against a criminal organization comprised of more than 100 people — one of whom was Cisneros Francia — for allegedly laundering illicit profits through successive deposits and transfers in the financial system.

Relationships between bankers and organized crime date back further than the 2010s. In 2001, after the fall of the Alberto Fujimori administration, a criminal investigation targeted BCP’s then-Chairman of the Board Dionisio Romero for his contacts with former presidential advisor Vladimiro Montesinos, but his case was dismissed in 2005. Thirteen years later, José Graña Miro Quesada, another BCP official, left his post after being investigated for money laundering in the Operation Car Wash case.

OjoPúblico obtained statements from BBVA and the BCP on the cases in this investigation. Both banking institutions stated that they maintain high standards in their money laundering prevention systems and comply and collaborate fully with authorities.

*This article was originally published by OjoPúblico and was translated, edited and reprinted by InSight Crime with permission. It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.


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