Did Romney donor's casino launder drug money?
According to an Aug. 4 report in the Wall Street Journal, the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles is investigating possible money laundering by Chinese-Mexican pharmaceutical entrepreneur Zhenli Ye Gon in the middle 2000s through the Las Vegas Sands Corp. casino company. The company, whose CEO and largest shareholder is US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to the Republican Party, reportedly failed to tell the authorities about suspicious money transfers by Ye Gon until the publication of a newspaper article about him in 2007. Adelson himself is apparently not being investigated at this point.
Ye Gon is in US custody awaiting extradition to Mexico on drug charges. He is accused of importing chemicals used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, and there are suspicions that he is connected with the Sinaloa drug cartel. In March 2007 police raided his Mexico City home and found almost $207 million in cash; the authorities described the raid as "the largest single drug cash seizure the world has ever seen." Ye Gon reportedly transferred millions of dollars through Sands and was such a good customer at the company's Venetian casino that he was given a Rolls Royce. He also transferred some $90 million through the Mexican subsidiary of the London-based corporation HSBC during the same period.
Adelson was a major donor to former US House speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign to be the Republicans' 2012 presidential candidate. When Gingrich dropped out of the race, the casino magnate switched to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is now considered certain to win the Republican nomination. Adelson plans to donate $100 million to this fall's Republican campaigns. He is also a strong supporter of rightwing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he was in Jerusalem in July when Romney and Netanyahu held a meeting there. (Reuters, Aug. 4; Business Insider, Aug. 7)
Adelson was having public relations problems even before the Ye Gon allegations appeared in the media. On Aug. 8 he filed a $60 million defamation suit against the Washington, DC-based National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). The group had quoted news reports carrying allegations by former Adelson employee Steven Jacobs that Adelson had approved of prostitution at his businesses in Macau, China.
"Referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures—as we did—is wholly appropriate," the NJDC said in response. "We know that we were well within our rights, and we will defend ourselves against this SLAPP [strategic lawsuit against public participation] suit as far and as long as necessary. We simply will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced." (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Aug. 8; The Jewish Week, Aug. 9, from JTA)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 12.