Federal prosecutors have portrayed wealthy Mexican businessman José Susumo Azano Matsura as a supervillain who was always one step ahead of the law. For two decades, prosecutors said, federal agents investigated Azano for drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion and tax fraud to no avail before he was popped last year on charges he illegally donated to San Diego politicians.
But the relationship between Azano and the U.S. government is more complicated than the Justice Department has let on.
In early 2012, the State Department vetted Azano and signed off on his participation in a deal to sell U.S.-made electronic surveillance equipment to Mexico, according to a redacted copy of a State Department export license obtained by Voice of San Diego.
That means, experts said, that the State Department didn’t believe Azano’s involvement in a deal to sell military-grade surveillance technology was a security risk even though the transaction occurred while Azano was facing federal scrutiny for serious offenses.
“If the U.S. government was investigating him for another crime, it does seem unusual that they would issue a license,” said Colby Goodman, who studies U.S. foreign security issues for the nonprofit Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor.
Azano’s license from the State Department raises a troubling question: Why did the U.S. government allow someone it believed might be involved in drug smuggling and other major crimes to sell sensitive American surveillance technology abroad?