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US authorities announced the arrest a prominent businessman for running a large scale money-laundering operation connected to international drug traffickers.

In coordination with the US Department of the Treasury, Colombian police arrested Nidal Waked, who they accuse of leading the Waked Money Laundering Organisation (Waked MLO) with his uncle Abdul - who are now designated “Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers”.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) says the Waked MLO laundered drug profits through 68 different companies - including the Waked's bank, Balboa Bank & Trust. The OFAC froze all of the organisation’s assets that were within US jurisdiction or controlled by “US persons”.

“This action exposes the Waked Money Laundering Organization and disrupts its ability to launder drug trafficking proceeds using trade-based methods, duty-free retail, real estate development, and financial services throughout the region,” said acting OFAC Director John E. Smith in a statement.

Grupo Wisa, the family’s holding company, called the charges are “false and unfounded,” and instructed their lawyers to fully cooperate with prosecutors.

The Drug Enforcement Agency called Mr Waked “one of the world’s most significant drug money launderers and criminal facilitators” in their announcement of his arrest this week.

“Wake’s arrest, together with the US Treasury sanctions of his many business interests and associates, represents a crippling blow to his criminal regime and highlights the significance of facilitators who enable transnational criminal networks,” said Jack Riley, the DEA deputy administrator.

According to the Treasury, the Waked MLO used trade-based money laundering schemes, which includes false commercial invoicing and bulk cash smuggling “to launder drug proceeds on behalf of multiple international drug traffickers and their organisations.”

The Waked family owns Panama’s oldest newspaper Estrella de Panama. The Associated Press says Grupo Wisa paid $173m to control a duty-free zone - exempt from taxes and other fees - at the Panama airport in 2007.

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