Brazil Money Exchange: A Shadowy Past and Uncertain Present

The Riviera Maya gang owns and operates Brazil Money Exchange, a company that buys and sells currencies, and this article discusses its shady past and uncertain future. The article also talks about the murder and the ongoing investigations into what the company is doing and who it is connected to.

Brazil Money Exchange: A Shadowy Past and Uncertain Present
Mexico's Shadowy Currency Exchange Industry: Uncovering Corruption and Violence. Image by DALL·E

This text is made up of three articles that look into different alleged criminal activities in Mexico. The first article details the shooting death of Mauro Gonzalez Galindo, the commissioner of the Brazil Money Exchange Centro Cambiario, in Cancun in July 2018.

The investigation shows that Florian Tudor, the leader of the Riviera Maya gang, owns and runs the exchange company. This gang also set up a large-scale ATM scam. Even though the Mexican government got involved, many tourist areas still have exchange houses, and Gonzalez's murder is still not solved.

The second article talks about the Brazil Money Exchange and its murky past and uncertain future. The investigation reveals Tudor's political and business ties, such as the corrupt notaries who set up the business and the shady businessmen who bought it from him.

The third article looks into Katia Ledesma's Master Exchange Center, a company that provides financial services outsourcing and has been accused of bribery and corruption. The tourist spots in Quintana Roo, Baja California, and Guanajuato are good for business for Ledesma's company.

The article says that the company can be traced back to a construction company called Golfmex Development. This company is accused of getting millions of dollars in payments to pay for the failed presidential campaign of a right-wing National Action Party candidate.

Mexican Currency Exchange Commissioner Slain in Cancún

Eleven weeks after commencing his role as commissioner of Brazil Money Exchange Centro Cambiario, Mauro Gonzalez Galindo fell victim to a hail of bullets. Witnesses recounted that in July 2018, four gunmen in a van bearing license plates from Tabasco opened fire on Gonzalez's Kia Sportage SUV as he drove along Yaxchilán Avenue in downtown Cancún. According to local media, at least 32 bullets penetrated the vehicle, with seven striking Gonzalez, four in the chest, and three in the face.

While Brazil Money Exchange appears to be a legitimate enterprise, an investigation by OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project), Quinto Elemento Lab, and Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI) has revealed that it is owned and operated by Florian Tudor, head of the Riviera Maya gang. Tudor's enterprise also established a large-scale ATM scam, which was eventually dismantled after the Mexican authorities intervened. However, Brazil Money Exchange still operates kiosks in many of the Riviera Maya tourist locations where the gang was once active.

The investigation exposes the political and commercial connections Tudor established, from allegedly corrupt notaries who registered the company to shady businessmen who bought it from him. Witnesses have described Tudor's influence as pervasive, with two investigators claiming that the Riviera Maya gang is virtually untouchable due to the ties of Tudor, also known as El Tiburon, to public officials, prosecutors, and local media.

Alberto Capella Ibarra, Quintana Roo's security secretary and one of Tudor's targets, described the reputation of the gang's "pseudo-businessmen" as among the worst he had seen. Capella alleges that certain political and institutional sectors treat them as if they were "Mexico's richest man" Carlos Slim and that the situation is "dramatic."

Despite the Mexican authorities pressuring the Tudor gang to shut down its ATMs and terminate its contract with a reputable bank, exchange houses continue to operate in many of the tourist areas, sometimes only a few meters away from the dismantled ATMs. Gonzalez's murder, like 98 percent of homicides in the state of Quintana Roo, remains unsolved.

Brazil Money Exchange A Shadowy Past and Uncertain Present
Brazil Money Exchange: A Shadowy Past and Uncertain Present. Image by DALL·E

Brazil Money Exchange: A Shadowy Past and Uncertain Present

In 2012, Juliano Belmonte do Amaral established Brazil Money Exchange, a currency exchange company based in Brazil. The founder's sister, Juceline, is married to a man named Tudor, who has been linked to the gang known as El Tiburon. Two years after its creation, El Tiburon purchased the company, shortly after setting up Top Life Servicios, a front company that enabled the gang to establish an ATM operation.

While there is no evidence to suggest that Brazil Money Exchange was used for money laundering, other businesses run by the gang have been implicated in such activity. Despite this, the company has never obtained anti-money laundering certifications and has been sanctioned multiple times for noncompliance with regulations.

Little is known about the company's activities before 2017. That year, Brazil Money Exchange renewed its license to operate as a bureau de change, with a trading limit of up to $10,000 per client per day, and changed its name to Master Exchange. However, in May 2018, most of its shares were transferred to Fabricio Ledesma Heinrich, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for seventy consecutive years until 2000, leading writer Mario Vargas Llosa to describe the system as "the perfect dictatorship".

Tudor initially remained the sole administrator of the company, but a partner who was arrested with him claimed that Tudor still had a foreign exchange business. Tudor resigned and was replaced by Gonzalez, who held the position for only 11 weeks before being killed while driving.

In January 2018, Katia Isadora Ledesma Heinrich, the sister of Fabricio Ledesma Heinrich, founded Master Exchange Center, Centro Cambiario. The company is not licensed to exchange currencies and appears to be a front for Ledesma and Tudor's business. The two co-founders of the front company, Alejandro Carapia Toledo and Gabino Jiménez Vázquez, were allegedly involved in a $20 million corruption scheme that involved funneling public funds from local officials to a presidential campaign.

Despite ongoing investigations, the true nature of the relationship between Brazil Money Exchange, El Tiburon, and other entities linked to Tudor and Ledesma remains unclear. The murky past and uncertain present of the Brazil Money Exchange continue to raise questions about its activities and connections.

Mexican Financial Services Company Linked to Alleged Corruption and Bribery Scheme

Katia Ledesma's Master Exchange Center, a financial services outsourcing company with a booming business in tourist destinations across Quintana Roo, Baja California, and Guanajuato has been linked to allegations of corruption and bribery. Founded by attorney Alejandro Carapia Toledo and businessman Gabino Jiménez Vázquez, who was also the sole administrator, the company's origins can be traced back to Golfmex Development, a construction company accused of collecting millions of dollars in payments to allegedly finance the failed campaign of right-wing National Action Party (PAN) presidential candidate Ernesto Cordero.

In a series of 2013 reports, journalist Georgina Howard detailed the alleged corruption scheme, in which Golfmex representatives toured hundreds of municipalities soliciting money in exchange for access to federal funds. Payments ranged from 20,000 to 200,000 pesos, with an estimated total of 240 million pesos (US$20 million) in bribes. As Golfmex's CFO, Jimenez was personally involved, attending a 2011 meeting in Mexico City where 180 mayors handed over 17,400 pesos ($1,450) each, allegedly to access federal funds that never materialized. Some claim the money was used to finance Cordero's campaign.

Despite this controversy, Jimenez registered the Master Exchange trademark through Consorcio Empresarial Century (CEC), another financial services outsourcing company. While CEC's president is Fabricio Ledesma, several of its employees lack credentials, including its commissioner, who drives a public transportation van. With proxies in place, Master Exchange's business expanded, even launching a door-to-door money exchange service that relied on WhatsApp messages for transactions, potentially leaving no paper trail.

Further complicating matters, another related company, Corporativo Comercial Century, is allegedly owned by a 69-year-old man on a list of beneficiaries of subsidies for the poorest people in Quintana Roo. The web of connections surrounding Master Exchange raises questions about its practices and highlights the challenges of regulating financial services outsourcing in Mexico.

Investigation reveals shadowy connections of Mexican currency exchange company to gangland boss.
Investigation reveals shadowy connections of Mexican currency exchange company to gangland boss. Image by DALL·E

Tudor Syndicate and Corrupt Officials Implicated in Fraud Scandals in Quintana Roo

The Tudor syndicate established itself in Quintana Roo with the blessing of various officials who have since been implicated in numerous fraud scandals. The former governor of the state, Roberto Borge Angulo, was apprehended in Panama in 2017 en route to Paris, where he was attempting to flee charges of abusing his authority, embezzlement, and misconduct in public office in Mexico.

Borge Angulo, the ringleader of the "Borge pirates," was accused of selling public land that belonged to the Quintana Roo Public Administration Real Estate Heritage Institute (IPAE) and unlawfully seizing private properties, utilizing the state apparatus with the assistance of corrupt officials. He has also been accused of money laundering and earned the moniker "the governor who sold Quintana Roo" in the media.

The notary public who incorporated Master Exchange was also embroiled in the scandal, as he headed a state agency that, according to media outlets, unlawfully seized four hotels in Tulum, a tourist hotspot in Quintana Roo. Luis Gabriel Palacios Velasco, who authenticated the formation of the gang's main front company, Top Life Servicios, in 2013, has also been linked to real estate scams. Five years later, he was accused of aiding one of Borge's "pirates," a Quintana Roo magistrate, in the improper acquisition of real estate in Cancun and auctioning it off to shell companies without the owners' knowledge.

In 2015, Palacios gave the green light to the establishment of Investcun, which the organization utilized to launder the profits from their ATM skimming scam by purchasing properties in Cancun. Within the first three weeks of its existence, Investcun had acquired a building in downtown Cancun that was previously occupied by IPAE, the same institution that Borge pillaged during his tenure. The building, located near Cancun's port on Robalo Street, became the syndicate's base of operations, and in 2017, they extended it by adding a building in the rear with a glass façade. According to an OCCRP neighbor, the location was guarded by armed personnel and visited by women who "appeared to be dolls."

The gang purchased the building from a mysterious real estate company run by former IPAE director Francisco Evadio Garibay Osario, who has a history of questionable sales of state-owned land. Garibay Osario personally negotiated the sale with Tudor's half-brother, according to the sales agreement obtained by OCCRP.

Former Director Implicated in Controversial Land Sales and Alleged Ties to Organized Crime

Former IPAE Director, Francisco Garibay, has a history of controversial land sales, including the sale of the headquarters to the Tudor gang. Two years after the gang's purchase in September 2017, Garibay's name appeared in a complaint filed with the Attorney General of the Republic by a Mexican transparency organization. The complaint revealed that Garibay was one of the businessmen and authorities who bought 165 properties auctioned by the former Governor of Quintana Roo, Félix González Canto.

The complaint further alleged that Governor González Canto had transferred 352 hectares of Tulum, an ancient Mayan fishing village, to a real estate company linked to Garibay, who launched the construction of a large luxury tourist development in the area, despite strong local opposition. Garibay acquired the land for the meager sum of 15 pesos per square meter ($1.4), 400 times cheaper than the average price in the area of 6,000 pesos ($545).

Garibay's involvement in irregular real estate dealings goes back much further. While serving as a public official at the Housing Institute, he was implicated in the fraudulent sale of public land to construction companies in Bonfil, a suburb of Cancun. His son, Iván Eliud Garibay Pulido, was a co-owner of the real estate company and also worked for the Quintana Roo government.

In September 2015, just months after Garibay sold the building to the Tudor gang, a man claiming to be Borge's former bodyguard wrote to the US embassy in Mexico, accusing Garibay and other state authorities of ties to organized crime. The man claimed that Garibay's son collected fees for criminal organizations and that he escorted him to collect the money at different points in Cancun.

The man, Luis Manuel Álvarez Adán, was later accused of extortion and locked up in Cancún prison, where he was found dead on July 31, 2018. While his death was ruled a suicide, human rights activist Raúl Fernández disagrees and has called it a murder.

Mexican Currency Exchange and Alleged Corruption Unraveling the Links of the Tudor Gang
Mexican Currency Exchange and Alleged Corruption Unraveling the Links of the Tudor Gang. Image by DALL·E

Tudor's Tactics: Using Connections to Attack Authorities

The leader of a criminal gang, Tudor, and his associates have been accused of using their connections to attack authorities who attempted to curb their activities. One such incident involved Javier Ocampo Garcia, a delegate of the Attorney General's Office (FGR) in Quintana Roo, who claims he was fired due to Tudor's promotion of a local media campaign to discredit him after security forces searched his home in May 2019.

According to Ocampo, Tudor, and his associates lodged complaints with several government bodies, including the FGR's general, the Special Prosecutor's Office for Combating Corruption, the Ministry of Public Function, and the National Human Rights Commission. However, it was Tudor's management of the media that proved most effective. Ocampo was fired following a "very strong media campaign" against him in the local press, orchestrated by Tudor.

Ocampo left his post in September 2019 and believes that the gang has the protection of authorities in Quintana Roo and other states, as well as prosecutors in Cancun. He alleges that "there are enough elements and indications [that show they have protection]," adding that the gang "come[s] to establish themselves and to be protected by authorities."

Tudor's next target was Alberto Capella Ibarra, Quintana Roo's new security secretary. In February 2020, Tudor and two associates published a letter to the president of Mexico in a local newspaper accusing the security secretary of persecuting them. This was followed by local media reports that Capella had been removed and that the FGR had taken action against him.

The following month, Tudor called a press conference at his home, in which he accused the authorities of stealing 67 million pesos ($2.8 million) from him during a search. He also accused them of attempting to extort him, alleging that the officers threatened to rape his wife and pointed a long gun at his 6-year-old son, traumatizing them to such an extent that they moved to Brazil. Tudor also claimed that he was physically and psychologically tortured during his detention.

Capella believes that Tudor's ability to co-opt media and public decision-makers have given him the power to challenge institutional authority. Capella alleges that Tudor has links to officials at various levels and institutions, including those with political power and owners of local media. He warns that these links pose a threat to the rule of law.

Full Citation:“La Conexión Corrupta: El Tiburón Y Sus Amigos Poderosos.” Aristegui Noticias,