Three Belgian pharmaceutical companies are facing charges for allegedly supplying a Mexican drug cartel with approximately four tons of the principal ingredient used to make Methamphetamine.
Authorities in Belgium have brought charges against seven executives from three major Belgian pharmaceutical companies, accusing them of supplying a Mexican drug cartel with ingredients used for methamphetamine production. Between 2006 and 2011, the corporations in question allegedly sold approximately four tons of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine to members of an influential drug ring. According to AFP estimates, this amount of ephedrine sold to the cartels was sufficient for the production of about 66 million methamphetamine capsules, valued around $370 million. Reuters revealed that Sterop and Andacon were two of the companies involved, though the identity of the third remains unknown. Company representatives have claimed that they were completely unaware that the drugs had been used for illicit purposes, though the prosecution allegedly has phone and email evidence suggesting otherwise.
Methamphetamine – commonly known by the names crystal meth, ice, crank, and glass – is usually manufactured by amateur “cooks” using dangerous and toxic chemicals such as lye, lithium, and ammonia. Its key ingredient, Ephedrine, is generally procured from over-the-counter medicines such as cough syrups and nasal decongestants. The resulting substance is a highly addictive psychostimulant, identifiable as crushed crystal shards that are colored white, clear or yellow. Users experience a rush of euphoria, followed by an extended period of mental and physical alertness, which often causes mania and delusions. Meth addiction has now become a national and arguably international crisis – a crisis that has made meth suppliers very wealthy, particularly Mexican drugs cartels that specialize in its manufacture.
Known drug cartel leader, Ezio Figueroa Vazquez is suspected of orchestrating the ephedrine purchases from the Belgian companies. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Treasury designated Vazquez and his son, Hassein Eduardo Figueroa Gomez, as “Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers”, as a label created by the Kingpin Act. Under this law, U.S. citizens are prohibited from involvement in financial or commercial transactions with these individuals, while also freezing any assets they may hold under U.S. jurisdiction. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also connected Vasquez to the currently imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel Head, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. The Sinaloa Cartel is supposedly the most active supplier of crystal meth to the U.S.
For decades, these cartels have been producing massive amounts of crystal meth and smuggling it across the border into the U.S. for distribution. Crystal meth now equates a massive social problem in the United States, as well as in Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, Sweden, Czech Republic, and Saudi Arabia, among others. In the US, it is considered by several states to be their largest drug problem. Meth use is often associated with a rise in criminal activity as Meth users can behave violently and erratically, sometimes entering prolonged psychosis.
These latest charges are rare in Europe as European companies are rarely prosecuted for selling precursor chemicals to drug cartels due to stricter regulations prohibiting this action. Though the involved pharmaceutical brands deny knowledge of the ephedrine’s intended use or prior criminal activity of the buyers, they are estimated to have earned millions of dollars from the transactions. The case is currently being processed in the Belgian jurisdiction system, but it remains to be seen if justice will be served.