A Chinese-Mexican businessman tied to what U.S. officials say was the world's largest seizure of drug cash is facing criminal charges in two countries that he trafficked in massive amounts of amphetamines destined for the United States.
Zhenli Ye Gon conspired to smuggle drugs into the United States and laundered millions of dollars from illegal drug sales at Las Vegas casinos and elsewhere, the U.S. government said in a criminal complaint made public Tuesday.
He has lost more than $125-million gambling in Las Vegas since 2004, the government said.
Aka Charley Ye
Ye Gon's lawyers said he has nothing to do with illegal drugs and is merely a victim of political corruption in Mexico. He was arrested Monday night in suburban Washington as he ate dinner at an Asian restaurant.
Dressed in an open-necked checked shirt and tan pants, he appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, where he was ordered held without bail for at least the next 10 days. His next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 3.
Ye Gon, also known as Charley Ye, said little during the brief court hearing.
Martin McMahon, a Washington-based lawyer who represents Ye Gon, said outside the courtroom: "This is complete nonsense. He has never had drugs, and he didn't have any drugs on him when he was arrested last night."
The attorney said he would fight efforts to hand Ye Gon over to Mexico, where he said his client would not receive a fair trial. "President (Felipe) Calderon has already said he is going to jail," McMahon said.
Ye Gon has been in the United States since March, McMahon said, around the same time police discovered $207-million at his Mexico City mansion.
He says that $150-million of the money belonged to Mexico's ruling party and that he was forced to store it for party officials in his mansion under threat of death during the 2006 presidential race, which Calderon narrowly won.
Calderon has called the accusations "pure fiction."
U.S. and Mexican authorities say Ye Gon used his pharmaceutical wholesaling business to provide large quantities of key ingredients to makers of methamphetamines.
He also is wanted in Mexico on charges relating to organized crime, drug trafficking and weapons.
Calderon praised the arrest. "We have made important seizures of drugs and money, among them, the biggest seizure of dirty money in the history of humanity of $205-million, and now, yesterday exactly, at the request of my government, one of the principal people responsible for the introduction and distribution of methamphetamines in our country has been detained," Calderon said during a visit to Sinaloa, a Mexican state that has been plagued by drug violence.
Mexican Attorney General Medina Mora said officials there had 60 days to file their legal arguments for Ye Gon's extradition, although it was unclear Tuesday whether the United States would agree to a quick extradition or first try Ye Gon in this country.
Authorities traced Ye Gon to an address in Wheaton, Md., north of Washington, using cellular tracking tools, and spent the past two weeks trying to locate him, according to a police report on the arrest.