The families of several US citizens killed at the hands of some of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels are suing HSBC, claiming the bank can be held liable as it allowed the syndicates to launder billions of dollars.
“As a proximate result of HSBC’s material support to the Mexican drug cartels, numerous lives, including those of the plaintiffs, have been destroyed,” read the complaint filed in a federal court in Texas.
The lawsuit is likely to raise fresh questions about the relationship between the cartels and the bank, which in 2012 paid more than $1.9bn to US authorities for permitting the laundering $881m of drug trafficking money.
Gareth Hewett, a spokesman for HSBC, said the bank intends to vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit, which in stark language details the macabre murders of several US citizens in 2010.
In one case, Rafael Morales Valencia was abducted on his wedding day as he left the church with his new wife. Along with his uncle and brother, he was transferred to a safe house by members of the Sinaloa cartel, where the men were tortured and asphyxiated.
In another case, Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, an employee of the US consulate office in border city Juárez, and her husband, Arthur, were ambushed and shot by members of the enforcement arm of the Juárez cartel after leaving a children’s birthday party hosted by the diplomatic office.
“Without the ability to place, layer and integrate their illicit proceeds into the global financial network, the cartels’ ability to corrupt law enforcement and public officials, and acquire personnel, weapons and ammunition, vehicles, planes, communication devices, raw materials for drug production and all other instrumentalities essential to their operations would be substantially impeded,” the complaint read.
“Thus, by facilitating the laundering of billions of dollars of drug cartel proceeds through its banks, HSBC materially supported the terrorist acts of cartels.”
The plaintiffs claim the bank is liable under the US Anti-Terrorism Act, which says the survivors of those killed in terrorist incidents may sue for damages. However, none of Mexico’s handful of drug syndicates are presently officially classified as terrorist organisations by US authorities.
As part of the 2012 deferred prosecution agreement in the US, HSBC acknowledged compliance failures and ignoring red flags in its Mexican operations — lapses seized upon by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
They highlighted admissions that HSBC was considered the “preferred financial institution for drug cartels and money launderers” and how launderers even used “specially shaped boxes” to move cash through the precise dimensions of the banks’ teller windows.
Mr Hewett of HSBC said the company was “committed to combating financial crime.”
“We are and have taken strict steps to help keep bad actors out of the global financial system,” he added.
Additional reporting by Jude Webber