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U.S. seized $31 million from suspected Peruvian drug clan

By Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal authorities in New York on Wednesday said they had seized $31 million in drug trafficking proceeds stashed in U.S. bank accounts by a Peruvian crime family.

In court papers, authorities said Peru's Sanchez-Paredes family had established the accounts to launder drug-selling proceeds dressed up as legitimate profits from mining companies and shell companies.

"While this allegedly notorious drug trafficking family may be beyond our reach, the proceeds from their decades-long money laundering scheme are not," Manhattan Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

The Sanchez-Paredes family has been dogged by allegations of drug trafficking for more than two decades in Peru, a top global producer of coca plants and cocaine. The family, whose business interests range from mining to show horses, has denied involvement in drug trafficking.

In court papers filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the U.S. authorities said they believed that funds in a U.S. account tied to Comarsa, a gold mine run by the Sanchez-Paredes family, were drug-trafficking proceeds

A Comarsa executive told Reuters that U.S. and Peruvian allegations the gold mine was a front for producing cocaine were false, and that the company's U.S. account was wrongly seized.

"It seems like there was a misunderstanding by the U.S. attorney," the executive told Reuters. "We are complaining about this."

The executive, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the case, said the mining company's contracts, sales and finances are transparent and public.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said that the $31 million had been seized in September from nine accounts in the United States, including accounts at Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase. Funds in three Peruvian accounts were also frozen, the authorities said.

The banks were not accused of wrongdoing. Representatives for the banks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The case is USA v. Any and All Funds on Deposit at Various Bank accounts, District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 12-cv-7530.

(Reporting By Basil Katz; Additional Reporting by Terry Wade in Peru; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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