Vicente Zambada Niebla, the former heir to the Sinaloa Cartel, will once again be able to conduct business with American companies.
Zambada, who is known as “El Vicentillo” in the narco world, is the son of Sinaloa leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and a close associate of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera. Sometime in 2021, Zambada was released from prison after petitioning about health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the high-profile coverage concerning the early release of convicted criminals during the pandemic, few English-speaking outlets noticed that one of the most powerful drug lords may have been counted among their number. Zambada, sentenced to 15 years in May 2019, served only a fraction of his time.
The Zambada family, owing to their position in the Sinaloa Cartel, has always faced assassination attempts — El Vicentillo was first targeted when he was 16-years-old. But now, after having testified against El Chapo, the U.S. Marshals Service are likely the only people he can trust. His current whereabouts are unknown, but Mexican outlets presume him to be in a witness protection program alongside his wife.
Starting on the undisclosed date of his release, El Vicentillo must remain in the United States for at least five years and has not made any public statements. The only clue about what he might be up to came from the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control last Friday.
OFAC is tasked with administering and enforcing economic and trade sanctions based on U.S. soil. Since 1995 they have been directed to block “significant narcotics traffickers” assets according to Executive Order 12978.
In their recent actions bulletin, OFAC announced that Zambada, his lengthy list of pseudonyms, and several businesses controlled by him and his father, have been removed from the Specifically Designated Nationals list. The removal of these entries indicates that Zambada is now free to access assets.
Until his arrest in 2009, El Vicentillo was one of the top shot callers in Sinaloa — a fact amplified by the astronomical figures his plea deal included.
In that deal, which was announced five years after his arrest, Zambada agreed to forfeit $1.37 billion in assets to the United States, pay an additional $4 million fine, and admit to smuggling vast quantities of cocaine and heroin alongside El Chapo.
“Zambada Niebla acknowledges that, during the course of the conspiracy, the quantity of cocaine he distributed on his own behalf and that of his co-conspirators involved several thousands of kilograms,” the agreement reads.
Timcast has contacted the U.S. Treasury Department inquiring into the nature of his removal from the SDN list. This story will be updated should any additional insight be provided by OFAC.