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Published: Thursday December 5, 2013 MYT 2:16:06 AM
Updated: Thursday December 5, 2013 MYT 2:17:05 AM

Guatemala holds 21 suspected of laundering cash for Mexico cartel

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemalan authorities have arrested 21 people suspected of laundering millions of dollars for the powerful Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, officials say.

Authorities believe the network, led by two Guatemalans, of laundering nearly $46 million in 2009 and 2010 through a fruit and vegetable export company in Guatemala.

Suspects sent most of the money, which national banks flagged to authorities as suspicious, to a separate fruit company in Mexico, officials said.

"We assume the money is from a Mexican cartel, the Sinaloa cartel," Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz told journalists on Tuesday, adding that one Mexican member of the network is still at large.

The Guatemalan government has been under pressure to crack down on organized crime rings that are blamed for a spike in violence in the Central American nation.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez, entering his third year of a four-year term, promised a "firm hand" against criminals, but homicides are expected to rise slightly in 2013 after having fallen for three consecutive years.

(Reporting by Mike McDonald; Editing by Alexandra Alper, Simon Gardner and Eric Beech)

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