7 Mar 2014

Knights Templar link to Mexico iron ore arrests

Latin America Correspondent

An army and police raid on an iron ore yard in Mexico’s Lazaro Cardenas port comes just a month after a Channel 4 News report into the Knights Templar drug cartel, run by Servanza “La Tuta” Gomez.

A Mexican army and police raid earlier this week on a huge iron ore yard run by the brutal Knights Templar drug cartel in Michoacán state follows an exclusive report on Channel 4 News.

The arrests and seizures at the Lazaro Cardenas seaport on Mexico‘s Pacific coast came about after we showed how the Knights Templar drug cartel had been exporting iron ore to China.

Lázaro Cárdenas is a gateway for Mexico’s growing trade with China, with most of the country’s iron ore exports shipped through it.

We got rare access to the port in February, and filmed at a mine run by the Knights Templar.

Operating freely

Our report disputed claims by Mexican authorities that the cartel was no longer in control of the mining industry in Michoacán state – and we showed how it operates freely under the nose of Mexican authorities.

Companies are exporting to China. They know the minerals are illegal, but they’ve found their own little pot of gold. Iron ore miner

Although the port is officially in government hands, the report showed how business was fully controlled by the Knights Templar. As well as drugs and extortion, the mining industry is a huge source of income for the gang.

With this power, the cartel rules through a mixture of fear and intimidation. Thousands have died.

It is headed by one of Mexico’s most wanted men Servando Gomez – who is known as La Tuta. He has a $2.5m bounty on his head and is on the run from Mexican authorities.

Mexico's Lazaro Cardenas port (Reuters)

‘Little pot of gold’

In an exclusive interview with me, he confirmed that he does do business with the Chinese.

“They have a right to do business and expand their markets, or to create more industry or more industry. The Chinese have some huge transnationals and they are tough mother******s !” he told me.

One of the miners at the port also agreed to speak to me.

He told me about their clients: “Companies are exporting to China. They know the minerals are illegal, but they’ve found their own little pot of gold. The companies you call illegal sell the minerals to legal companies, then it is exported.”

“Each ship is worth $13m and we have 30 ships per year.” he said. “And of that, 50-75 per cent of business from the port goes to organised crime.”

Big blow?

The report was widely played in the Mexican media and went viral online – and the government has been under pressure ever since to provide answers.

The Mexican government says the raid earlier this week struck a big blow against the business. Over 400 police and soldiers seized over 100,000 tons of minerals, authorities say.

But whether it is enough to crush the cartel remains to be seen – and their feared boss, La Tuta, is still at large.