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U.S. Nabs Alleged Mexican Meth Lord

A Chinese-Mexican businessman produced tons of the main ingredient in methamphetamines, knowing the drugs were destined for the United States, according to a federal criminal complaint obtained by The Associated Press.

Zhenli Ye Gon, tied to what U.S. officials say was the world's largest seizure of drug cash, was facing charges Tuesday that he smuggled drugs and laundered the profits from drug sales at Las Vegas casinos and elsewhere in the United States.

Ye Gon lost more than $125 million gambling in Las Vegas since 2004, U.S. drug agent Eduardo Sanchez said in an affidavit that accompanied the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Ye Gon was building a plant in Mexico City to produce pseudoephedrine "in order to aid and abet clandestine methamphetamine manufacturers operating in Mexico with the knowledge that the methamphetamine produced was ultimately destined for the United States," Sanchez said in an affidavit filed in June, but kept under seal until Tuesday.

Ye Gon, wanted in Mexico on organized crime, drug trafficking and weapons charges, was arrested by federal agents Monday at a suburban Maryland restaurant. He was scheduled for arraignment Tuesday afternoon in Washington.

His lawyers said Ye Gon would fight efforts to return him to Mexico.

"This is complete nonsense," said Martin McMahon, a Washington-based lawyer who represents Ye Gon. "He has never had drugs and he didn't have any drugs on him when he was arrested last night."

McMahon said his client would not receive a fair trial in Mexico. "President (Felipe) Calderon has already said he is going to jail," McMahon said. "We will vigorously oppose his extradition."

In Mexico, President Calderon said Tuesday that his government will go after criminals wherever they are.

"Today those who commit crime should know that my government will spare no effort or resources in pursuing and capturing them wherever they are, whether they are inside or outside our national territory," Calderon said during an event to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the law school where he studied. Calderon did not make any direct statements regarding the arrest of Ye Gon.

Ye Gon was arrested in nearby Wheaton, Md., Monday evening.

Another lawyer, Ning Ye, went to the federal courthouse in Washington Tuesday morning to demand that authorities charge Ye Gon or release him.

DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said that Ye Gon was arrested on drug smuggling and money laundering charges, adding that the fugitive was tracked down by agents and did not turn himself in.

Authorities traced Ye Gon to an address in Wheaton using cellular tracking tools, and spent the past two weeks trying to locate him, according to a police report on the arrest. A search warrant was executed on the Wheaton residence Monday night.

Mexican officials have requested his arrest for extradition. Police discovered $207 million at his Mexico City mansion in what U.S. officials have called the world's biggest seizure of drug cash.

Mexican Attorney General Medina Mora called the arrest "magnificent news" and said Mexican officials had 60 days to file their legal arguments for Ye Gon's extradition. The Chinese-Mexican fugitive is wanted on organized crime, drug trafficking and weapons charges.

Medina Mora said the cash seized at Ye Gon's home was connected to one of the hemisphere's largest networks for trafficking pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in methamphetamines. He said the ring had been operating since 2004, illegally importing the substance and selling it to a drug cartel that mixed it into the crystal form and exported to the United States.

Ye Gon has said the chemicals imported by his company, Unimed Pharm Chem de Mexico SA, were legitimate and intended for use in prescription drugs to be made at a factory he was building in Toluca, just west of the Mexican capital.

Ye Gon also claimed that $150 million of the money belonged to Mexico's ruling party, and that he was forced to store it for party officials in his mansion under threat of death during the 2006 presidential race, which Calderon narrowly won.

Calderon has called the accusations "pure fiction."

Ye, the attorney, earlier had denounced the "lousy evidence made up by Mexican government" and said that Ye Gon would apply for political asylum in the United States.

Ye said he was surprised by the arrest because he said he had reached a verbal agreement last week with a DEA agent in Mexico that called for Ye Gon to surrender to U.S. marshals on Thursday. In return, Ye Gon was to be tried in the United States, not Mexico, Ye said.

"Only the United States can provide the most comprehensive procedural safeguards concerning what is happening on the Mexican side," Ye said.

Medina Mora said Ye Gon's girlfriend Michelle Wong had been detained in Las Vegas and may also face criminal charges. Medina Mora met with DEA officials Tuesday morning, but it was not immediately known whether Ye Gon's case was discussed.

Rogelio de la Garza, Ye Gon's lawyer in Mexico, said he feared that U.S. authorities may simply deport him to avoid a drawn out battle in a U.S. court.

De la Garza said he will fight for Ye Gon's immediate freedom if he arrives in Mexico, arguing the money was earned legally and that Ye Gon was not found with any narcotics.

U.S. anti-drug officials have praised Calderon's crackdown on Mexican traffickers since taking office. DEA chief Karen Tandy also applauded Mexican agents following the March money seizure.

"This is like law enforcement hitting the ultimate jackpot. But luck had nothing to do with this windfall," Tandy said, calling it "the largest single drug-cash seizure the world has ever seen."