MS-13 gang 'extremely dangerous'

2012-10-12 09:14

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Washington - The United States on Thursday declared the notorious Central American MS-13 gang one of the world's most dangerous criminal groups, launching a campaign to lock down its financial resources.

The US Treasury officially labelled the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a "transnational criminal organisation", a designation also applied to the Italian mafia and Japanese Yakuza, and set sanctions banning any US citizens from doing business with the group.

"MS-13 is an extremely violent and dangerous gang responsible for a multitude of crimes that directly threaten the welfare and security of US citizens, as well as countries throughout Central America," said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen.

Cohen said the group has been expanding its activities in murder, racketeering, drug trafficking and sex trafficking.

"What we see is an organisation with substantial financial flows," said Cohen.

So Washington wants "to prevent MS-13 from using its financial wherewithal to infiltrate... legitimate business".

Sanctions under the new designation will help US authorities shut MS-13 out of the US financial system and make it more difficult for it to move money around the world, he said.

Cohen called the action Thursday a "first step" in a campaign that could see, as with other designated criminal organizations, leaders, their families, and any related businesses hit with sanctions.

With at least 30 000 members, mostly in Central and North America, including 8 000 in the United States, the group is "one of the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs in the world today", the Treasury said.

Criminal organisations

"MS-13's criminal nature can be seen in one of its mottos, 'Mata, roba, viola, controla' ['Kill, steal, rape, control']."

The move officially places MS-13 on a list of "significant transnational criminal organisations" which already includes the Brother's Circle rooted in Russia and Eastern Europe, Mexico's Zetas, Italy's Camorra and Japan's Yakuza.

It allows the United States to block any assets or property of MS-13-linked people or businesses, and prohibits any US citizens or US firms from doing any business with the group.

"This action positions us to target the associates and financial networks supporting MS-13, and gives law enforcement an additional tool in its efforts to disrupt MS-13's activities," said Cohen.

The Treasury said MS-13's local units, found in 40 US states, are directed by a leadership based in Central America, mainly in El Salvador.

"Money generated by local MS-13 cliques in the US is consolidated and funneled to the group's leadership in El Salvador," it said.

Since 2006, more than 4 000 MS-13 members have been arrested inside the United States.

- SAPA

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