SAN DIEGO -- Federal and international drug agents have arrested 167 people and dismantled money laundering operations directed by two major Colombian cocaine cartels, the Drug Enforcement Administration said Monday.
The DEA said 60 of the cartels' top-ranking officials were arrested in an eight-nation sweep this weekend.
An additional 107 suspects have been indicted by federal grand juries in Los Angeles and San Diego on charges of conspiracy to launder cash generated by cocaine sales for the Cali cartel.
Federal and international drug agents also seized more than $54 million in cash and property throughout the world.
The arrests culminated a three-year effort by the DEA to infiltrate the Cali and Medellin cartels' money laundering operations. The cartels are the 'most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the history of the world,' DEA Administrator Robert Bonner said.
'Operation Green Ice' is part of the government's effort to 'hit the global money laundering network hard,' U.S. Attorney General William Barr said.
DEA agents nabbed 19 of the cartels' finance officers in Southern California. International law enforcement officers arrested 41 other key leaders in Italy, Spain, Costa Rica and England.
Undercover agents posed as money laundering facilitators and used confidential informants to identify several major Colombian drug brokers, who acted as middlemen between Cali cartel kingpins in Colombia and money laundering organizations in the United States.
The investigations began in Los Angeles and San Diego, but extended to Florida and Illinois and eventually involved law enforcement officials from seven other nations, DEA officials said.
Other agencies jumped in to assist in the investigation when cartel operatives asked undercover DEA agents to provide money laundering services in Europe, Canada and the Caribbean.
'Through these collective multi-national law enforcement efforts, we have delivered a serious blow to the Cali cartel,' Bonner said. 'We have damaged the cartel's financial operations and disrupted their cash flow.'