How do drug cartels try to evade law enforcement?

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The term "drug cartel" can cover a multitude of organizations. At the top end, however, these are hugely profitable and formidably well-organized syndicates that exercise a great deal of power over every stage of the business of drug production, trafficking and distribution.

Clearly, drug cartels have to keep all their...

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The term "drug cartel" can cover a multitude of organizations. At the top end, however, these are hugely profitable and formidably well-organized syndicates that exercise a great deal of power over every stage of the business of drug production, trafficking and distribution.

Clearly, drug cartels have to keep all their operations as secret as possible, evading law enforcement at every stage of their business. There are two principal points, however, at which they are particularly vulnerable, when they need to employ especially elaborate strategies for evading the law. The first comes when moving drugs across international borders, almost always a necessary procedure to maximize profit. The second comes when spending and investing the proceeds of selling drugs.

When moving drugs across borders, cartels have had to become increasingly sophisticated and change their strategies frequently. Many people think of the old-fashioned "drugs mule" smuggling narcotics through airports, but this is particularly risky, and it is difficult to traffic high volumes in this way. In recent years, cartels have sometimes gained access to food packaging facilities so that drugs can be shipped in factory-sealed parcels without the use of human "mules." There has also been increasing use of parcels shipped through the mail or via international couriers such as FedEx and UPS. The very latest methods of evading border security, however, are probably still unknown to the enforcement authorities themselves.

With the increasing use of electronic payment systems, it is harder than ever to spend or invest large sums of cash without giving any account of where it came from. This means that money laundering is a vital part of any cartel's business, without which it would have no way to use the money it amassed. Cartels use a complex chain of apparently legitimate businesses to give drug money a "pedigree," helping them to avoid arousing suspicion at the large sums they have at their disposal.

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