Mexican authorities said Wednesday that they had captured a close family member of fugitive billionaire drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman while busting a Sinaloa cartel operation that extended all the way to Ecuador.
Victor Manuel Felix was one of 18 people arrested in Mexico and Ecuador, the Mexican Public Security Ministry said. Federal police identified Felix as the father-in-law of Guzman's son as well as the godfather of one of the drug lord's children. That makes Felix and Guzman compadres, or co-fathers, which in Latin America is an especially tight relationship.
Felix worked as a principal money launderer for the Sinaloa cartel that Guzman heads, Ramon Pequeno, head of the federal police antinarcotics division, said in a news conference.
He was captured Friday with half a ton of cocaine and $500,000, Pequeno said.
Pequeno said authorities focused on Felix after detecting a "series of anomalous movements" in his bank accounts and then tracking his activities in South America, where a group of Mexicans, Ecuadoreans and Colombians warehoused and repackaged cocaine for shipment north.
The case illustrates the ever-expanding transnational nature of Mexican drug trafficking.
The capture of a Guzman family member raised questions about whether authorities might be moving closer to detaining the cartel chief, who has been on the lam since escaping from a maximum-security prison in 2001.
The government of President Felipe Calderon has frequently been accused of failing to hit the Sinaloa cartel with the same vigor as other drug organizations. The government says it goes after all cartels equally, in a conflict that has claimed more than 35,000 lives in just over four years.
One of Guzman's former wives was detained last summer, also on suspicion of money laundering, in Culiacan, capital of Sinaloa state, where most of Mexico's main traffickers got their start. She was released in a matter of hours, for reasons never fully revealed.
The United States has a $5-million bounty on Guzman's head. Forbes Magazine ranks him as one of the world's richest men, with a fortune the publication estimates at more than $1 billion.
Sanchez is a news assistant in The Times' Mexico City bureau