T he Obama administration announced a broadside of harsh new sanctions against four far-flung criminal cartels on Monday, part of what it said is a coordinated strategy to fight international underworld factions that could harm U.S. interests or security.
A new executive order signed by President Barack Obama outlined a regime of schedule of harsh sanctions against so-called transnational criminal groups, blocking any American property interests and freezing their assets, authorizing financial sanctions against anyone aiding them and barring their members from entering the United States.
The order, signed Sunday, authorizes new sanctions against criminal cartels in Mexico, Japan, Italy and Eastern Europe: Los Zetas, a Mexican drug ring linked to multiple murders; the Yakuza, Japan‘s widespread mob army; the Camorra, a crime network based in southern Italy; and the Brothers’ Circle, an Eastern European criminal group operating worldwide.
The new moves come as the administration is animating a long-scattered effort to confront global crime groups suspected of transporting drugs and weapons and helping terrorist groups. While the U.S. war against terrorist networks has been a clear foreign policy priority since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, its handling of “transnational” crime groups has been uneven at times and fragmented among federal agencies.
In announcing the new moves, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged Monday that “the problem of transnational organized crime and their networks is not new.” He insisted that a yearlong review by administration officials, the first in 15 years, “has strengthened our fight.”
Holder said his department would press to update anti-racketeering laws and extend other statutes to combat money laundering, arms trafficking, cybercrime and intellectual property offenses. David Cohen, who heads the Treasury Department’s Terrorism and Financial Intelligence office, said the U.S. also would now target international criminal groups with the same arsenal of financial penalties long used against al-Qaida and other militant groups.
Obama‘s executive order, Cohen said, allows Treasury to take on international criminal groups by freezing their assets in the U.S. or the American financial system and pursuing criminal charges against anyone cutting business deals with them.