Mexican Drug Lord Posing as Art Dealer Arrested

A $5 million reward was offered for his capture.

Mexican special forces seized alleged drug lord Héctor Beltrán Leyva on Wednesday, during a raid at a seafood restaurant in the Mexican city of San Miguel de Allende, Reuters reports. Beltrán Leyva had taken residency in the nearby state of Queretaro, where he passed himself off as a businessman selling art and real estate. The U.S. authorities had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Beltrán Leyva’s capture.

The federal criminal investigations chief Tomás Zerón gave a press conference on Wednesday night, in which he stated that no shots had been fired in the operation, which culminated an 11-month inquiry.

Zerón said Beltrán Leyva had tried hard to avoid detection since becoming head of the cartel in late 2009, after his brother Arturo was killed by Mexican troops in a shootout. He settled in Queretaro and kept a low profile, posing as an art and real estate entrepreneur.

U.S. and Mexican authorities say the Beltrán Leyva gang is responsible for trafficking drugs to the United States and Europe, including cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine, according to Fox News.

“It’s a huge deal to get Héctor Beltrán Leyva, who took over the most bloodthirsty cartel in Mexico,” Andrew Selee, a Mexico expert at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, told Fox News. “The Beltrán Leyva organization was known for corrupting the upper ranks of government and terrorizing communities. Following on the capture of ‘El Chapo’ Guzman and Miguel Trevino, this is probably the most elusive figure who has still been at large.”

The links between art and drugs in Mexico have become more apparent of late. The authorities are attempting to tackle the issue with a new set of laws, which requires businesses susceptible of being the target of money-laundering activities—such as casinos, pawnshops, jewelry stores, and art galleries—to limit the use of cash and share more information about their customers and their purchases with the government. The regulations have raised numerous complaints from art dealers and gallery owners, who claim the laws are harming their business and that drug lords do not focus their illegal activities on art (see “Mexico’s Art Market a Casualty of the War on Drugs”).

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