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Colombia drugs money being laundered in China - claim

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, Nov 20 (Reuters) China has become a new money laundering hub for Colombian drug gangs who buy Chinese products to import into Colombia for sale through legitimate channels, Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon said today.

''It worries both (countries). We are seeing a new mode of operation where cash from the narcotics trade is coming into China and being used to buy goods which are shipped back to Colombia and other countries in Latin America and sold there,'' Santos told a news conference in the Chinese capital.

Chinese officials were not immediately available for comment.

The drug money is being used to buy textiles, toys and electronics, among other goods, and both countries are keen to stop the trade.

''We are just trying to start a dialogue, and look for some kind of mechanism through Customs, which is the best way ... to control this kind of contraband,'' he added.

Santos said Colombia was also hoping to step up controls on chemicals from China which could be used for manufacturing synthetic drugs as well as legitimate industrial products.

His week-long visit was largely designed to drum up Chinese investment spurred by a string of free trade deals Colombia is agreeing with the United States, European Union and other Latin American countries.

Bogota hopes Chinese firms restrained by import quotas to the European Union, the United States and other key markets will consider setting up factories in Colombia instead.

''We are primarily focused on looking for Chinese investment to use Colombia as an export platform towards the countries with which we have the free trade deals,'' Santos said.

''There is a possibility for tariff-free and quota-free exports to those markets.'' He said there had been no progress on a planned pipeline to carry Venezuelan crude to Pacific ocean ports for shipment to China because of problems with Caracas, but declined to provide further details.

President Alvaro Uribe said on a visit to China last April that all three parties had given the idea a verbal acceptance, and they were looking for a Chinese investor.

Reuters AB DB1825

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