U.S. Treasury Freezes Assets of Sinaloa Cartel’s ‘El Azul’

The Treasury Department said it’s freezing U.S. assets controlled by Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, a leader of Mexico’s violent Sinaloa drug cartel known as “El Azul.”

Esparragoza has used profits from narcotics trafficking to build a business empire that includes a housing development, shopping mall, gas stations and an industrial park, operated by friends and family, Treasury said today in an e-mailed statement. The action taken today prohibits people in the U.S. from engaging in financial transactions with his businesses, Treasury said.

“Esparragoza Moreno has purposely kept a low profile in hopes of avoiding scrutiny while he has increased his influence and ill-gotten gains,” Adam J. Szubin, director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement. “Today’s action shines the spotlight on this godfather of Mexican narcotics whether he likes it or not.”

More than 47,000 people have died in drug-related violence since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in 2006. The government estimates that the drug war shaves about 1 percentage points off economic output annually.

Esparragoza is wanted in both Mexico and the U.S., and today’s action targets six of his family members, including four children, Treasury said. The U.S. State Department is offering a reward of as much as $5 million for information leading to his arrest, while Mexican authorities are offering 30 million pesos ($2.18 million), Treasury said.

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