U.S. federal officials say 18 people have been charged in an international money-laundering operation that investigators say moved millions of dollars in Colombian drug profits through the United States, Colombia and other countries.
Authorities Tuesday said the charges follow an extensive operation, dubbed "Circling Vultures," in which the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigated Colombia's Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE). Investigators have described the exchange as a means of laundering narcotics proceeds generated in the United States for return to Colombia.
Investigators say an unnamed cooperating witness introduced U.S. agents to Colombian peso brokers and that the agents spent months monitoring money-laundering operations in the U.S., Panama, Guatemala and other locations.
They allege one of the defendants, Jader Gomez, engaged in several meetings aimed at moving $200 million in U.S. currency from Guatemala into Panama by plane. Gomez was extradited from Colombia last week.
Seventeen people have been arrested, while the 18th person remains at large.
The DEA says the 18 defendants are charged with one count of participating in a money-laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.