MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government presented an online platform Wednesday that it claims will allow authorities to track the importation and consumption so-called “dual-use” precursor chemicals that are often used to make synthetic drugs like meth and fentanyl.
Mexico is the biggest supplier of such drugs to the U.S. market, and a number of Mexican companies have lost shipments of chemicals like ephedrine, benzene or ammonium chloride to theft, or sold them to front companies used by drug cartels.
Dual-use precursors are chemicals that are both used to produce drugs, and have a legitimate use in making cosmetics, household cleaning products or other industries. While they had long been “flagged” for special supervision in Mexico, the system was riddled by laxness and corruption.
Alejandro Svarch, the head of Mexico’s health and drug regulatory agency, COFEPRIS, cited “acts of corruption and misuse of substances” in his agency in previous years.
“In an obscure archive ... there was a discretional use, with no accountability, of imports of shipments of various chemicals with the intent of manufacturing, in many cases, illicit substances,” Svarch said.
In fact, of the six Mexican distribution companies listed by the government as authorized to deal in such substances, two have had their activities suspended for "irregularities," one was closed temporarily and one closed definitively.
Of the remaining two Mexican companies, one is under investigation by the country's anti-money laundering agency, and had its bank accounts frozen until early this year.
Svarch said the new system will allow shipments to be traced and to verify how they’re used.
The new system was designed in conjunction with the Mexican Navy, which has been given control of customs inspection at Mexico's seaports. The Navy also played a role in raiding the main offices of the Cofepris agency and rooting out corruption there.
Svarch did not explain how the new system will prevent the chemicals — many of which are liquids — from ‘leaking' out of legitimate warehouses, but said a QR code will be attached to shipments.
Mexico has established a list of 72 chemicals requiring special permits and handling, ranging from close precursors like piperidone and P2P, to more general-use substances like acetic acid and iodine.
It is unclear whether such measures can stop Mexican cartels, who have built industrial-scale laboratories to make meth and fentanyl, trained chemists to produce them and have demonstrated an ability to switch formulas when certain ingredients become scarce.