Mexico to Probe the Diversion of U.S. Chemicals Into Drug Trade
An evidence bag with cocaine. (Photographer: Nicolo Filippo Rosso/Bloomberg)

Mexico to Probe the Diversion of U.S. Chemicals Into Drug Trade

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Monday his government will not allow the diversion of chemicals sold by private companies to make the heroin and methamphetamine fueling an American drug epidemic and enriching cartels.

The president said his administration would look into the matter after Bloomberg Businessweek found that chemicals legally produced and sold in Mexico by U.S. companies have been easily diverted, on a massive scale, to make two of the main narcotics bound for America’s streets in the last decade.

“It doesn’t matter if these are U.S. companies,” Lopez Obrador said during a news conference. “They can be from any part of the world, but we will not permit this.”

Mexican cartels have a veritable monopoly on the supply of heroin and meth to the U.S., where more than 142,000 people died from overdoses of both drugs from 2010 through 2018.

Lopez Obrador pledged he would have his government review the details of the investigative report, which was published in this week’s Mexican edition of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. He said he would be careful about how he handled any findings, given the U.S. election season, because the “only thing we don’t want is to intervene or insert ourselves into” the American political campaigns.

Without the right chemicals, it’s impossible for cartels to make the two drugs plaguing America. The most critical chemical, and the most ubiquitous, is called acetic anhydride, which is required to make heroin and also has been used in Mexico to produce industrial quantities of meth.

Under international drug laws, it has been one of the most strictly controlled “precursor and essential chemicals” for the production of illegal narcotics, but not in Mexico; in the roughly 18 years before Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018, the Mexican government left acetic anhydride virtually unregulated. U.S. companies, operating through Mexican subsidiaries, have dominated the local market, Bloomberg found.

Through their Mexican subsidiaries, U.S. companies also have largely avoided oversight from international and American narcotics authorities, the investigation shows.

One, Avantor Inc., sold acetic anhydride across Mexico in containers that are big enough to make lucrative quantities of heroin, but small enough to load into the trunk of a car. Bloomberg found evidence its chemicals were used in drug labs in the two top Mexican heroin producing regions across the last decade, and that it remained readily available. Sales come via a network of distributors, online sellers, and stores spread across the country.

The company said it followed all applicable laws and regulations and was “committed to preventing diversion or misuse of our products” for illicit drugs.

Another U.S. company, Celanese Corp., lost enough of a different, critical meth-making chemical in repeated Mexican hijackings to make all the meth U.S. border agents seized in 2015 and 2016 combined, Bloomberg found.

Celanese said it followed all applicable laws, and that it decided in 2016 to end production of the chemical, called monomethylamine, or MMA, because “it was not consistent with our corporate values to be associated with the situation or to put our employees or reputation in harm’s way.”

The company continues to be Mexico’s top industrial producer of acetic anhydride; its main legal use is to make cigarette filters, while smaller quantities are used in chemistry labs.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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