An investigation into a criminal group led by Romanians based in Mexico, specializing in ATM looting (skimming) and credit card fraud, has revealed details about the group’s modus operandi, which includes a network of alliance policies.
In early February, a joint investigation by the FBI and Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) allowed the freezing of accounts suspected of belonging to Romanians. According to the FIU, the organization’s substantial earnings throughout Mexico include operations of US $ 23 million within the country, international transfers worth US $ 24 million, and checks and interbank transfers worth the colossal US $ 231 million.
In total, the so-called “Riviera Maya gang” has stolen some US $ 1.2 billion in the last five years. Milenio refers to the scheme as “the largest bank robbery in the history of Mexico . “
A few days after retaining the accounts, the federal authorities announced alleged links between Florian Tudor, alias “El Tiburon”, a Romanian citizen who leads the gang, and a wide protection network made up of Mexican politicians, including former governors of the state. of Quintana Roo, legislators of the nation, and mayors of cities near Cancun.
While details of this scheme continue to be known, InSight Crime takes a look at the main aspects that have been known so far:
The only European criminal group from Latin America
Several European criminal organizations have long had a presence in Latin America, including Italian, Albanian, and Serbian gangster groups, but their presence in the region has consisted of intermediaries and operators who establish criminal associations with Latin American organizations to secure the supply of cocaine to Europe.
The Tudor group was different. Based in Mexico, it formed alliances with other criminal groups and with various politicians in order to operate without obstacles. The Riviera Maya gang has been linked to sex trafficking and extortion, and the fact that it has stayed out of drug trafficking has perhaps given it some independence from other criminal structures.
Its alleged leader, Tudor, moved from Romania to Cancun before 2014, and he was followed by friends and family who have established a closed circle, made up mainly of Romanian citizens, which has been difficult to infiltrate by intelligence units and the public force.
Although the group’s operations center has been in Cancun, it has had a presence throughout the country. Some of the group’s members, known as “pullers” were deployed to withdraw money with cloned cards and install devices in more than 100 ATMs in Cabo San Lucas, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and other tourists sites. The scheme has been so lucrative that some of Cancun’s newer buildings reportedly had Tudor investments.
While the group had certain characteristics in common with other Mexican organizations, such as buying politicians to offer them protection, it is the only example of a European-led criminal group based entirely in Latin America.
The success of the Romanian Mafia has been due in part to Tudor’s extensive network of contacts, which includes several corrupt political parties and officials at the national and local levels who have offered it protection for years.
Milenio published intelligence information that indicates that among those linked to the group are José de la Peña Ruiz de Chávez, deputy of the Green Party, as well as two former governors of Quintana Roo, among many others.
Complaints have also been made against René Bejarano, current candidate for federal deputy for the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA). On February 9, Bejarano publicly admitted that he knew members linked to the Tudor group, but claimed that he cut all ties with them when he realized that they were using his name and that of his party to participate in criminal activities.
The investigation indicates that the Federal Government’s security cabinet detected a network of politicians from the PVEM, PRI, PRD, PT and Morena, as well as other officials in Quintana Roo, but allegedly Bejarano would be one of the main links of the mafia leader Romanian, Florian Tudor, the Shark.
The Federal Government would have detected a network of politicians who allegedly protect and collaborate with the Romanian mafia, which is dedicated to cloning tourist bank cards, trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation and extortion of merchants. Among the names that are mentioned in the investigation carried out by Milenio, is that of the former local deputy in Mexico City René Bejarano.
Said media points out that Bejarano, through various collaborators, allegedly used Morena and even the name of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to defraud citizens and businessmen of Cancun.
The alleged protection network also mentions the names of former PRI governors of Quintana Roo, Félix Arturo González Canto, and Roberto Borge, as well as deputies of the pvem, former PRI and PRD mayors of the entity, including Benito Juárez, whose municipal seat is Cancun.
In May 2020, reports emerged that various Public Ministry officials were involved in protecting the group.
In February 2021, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for a full investigation into the Riviera Maya gang and its operations.
The Mexican government is investigating evidence that the gang created multiple front companies through which they invested millions of dollars in real estate, land acquisitions, casinos, and luxury goods in Mexico, including a multi-story luxury property that was used as its main headquarters in Cancun.
An investigation into the gang, conducted in 2020 by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), indicates that, in 2015, Tudor’s half-brother, Adrian Enăchescu, also created a company located in Delaware, United States, with offices in New York and San Francisco, which was allegedly used to send money from US bank accounts to members of the organization in Mexico and Romania.
Craiova, Tudor’s hometown, is a hub for Romanian organized crime groups, which are aided by rampant local corruption, evidenced by its luxurious apartments in the city center, which are often purchased with money sent from Mexico and the United States. The city was supposedly the place of origin for ATM embezzlement operations in countries such as Switzerland, Italy, France, and the United States.
Since the organization’s modus operandi was unveiled in 2015, U.S., Mexican, and Romanian authorities have carried out multiple arrests in an attempt to dismantle the group, but El Tiburon’s narrow circle and political contacts have often made it difficult this task.
On March 31, 2019, Tudor was arrested in Quintana Roo but was released hours later due to lack of evidence. There have also been raids of several properties, which according to the alleged leader have been illegal.
However, the efforts have intensified notably in recent weeks. On January 31, at least 85 Romanians were detained at the Cancun International Airport since they could not give a reason for their trip, and four of them were returned to Europe, as they had travel bans. On February 4, the FIU froze the bank accounts of at least 79 alleged members and accomplices of the Riviera Maya gang; however, this has proven to be ineffective in the past, as they are usually eventually unlocked.