Money Laundering and Drugs: Cartels’ Techniques

Money laundering is a type of malicious activity that is practiced by criminals across the globe. It is the process of converting illicit proceeds into “clean” money, which cannot be traced back to the original source of income. Aside from being a financial crime, money laundering is also associated with other types of crime, such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, and prostitution. The reason why criminals and terrorist groups need to launder their funds is to legitimise them, before introducing them into the financial system as legal currency. Money laundering and drugs have historically had a close link. The drug war in the 1980s prompted governments to implement money laundering regulations in an attempt to trace and seize the proceeds of drug trafficking in order to apprehend drug gangs and banks that aided them. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how drug cartels launder money and how banks are engaged in the process.

Where do drug dealers hide their money?

It’s important to know and understand the vast range of money laundering processes within the trade-in narcotics industry. According to the think tank Global Financial Integrity’s Transnational Crime and the Developing World report, the global illicit drug market had an estimated size of between US$426 and US$652 billion in 2014 alone. This shows the large scale at which money is being laundered by drug cartels. Drug cartels hide their profits by flushing them through the vast global financial market, using various methods including internet payment platforms, cryptocurrencies, payment cards and real estate. Then, they use the laundered cash to underwrite their trafficking.

The quantity of funds to be laundered is high which makes it difficult for drug cartels to not be suspected. As such, criminal activity of such an enormous scale can not only damage those directly involved in the criminal group, but also affect the stability of financial markets – all while encouraging the widespread use of drugs. This 2014 Financial Action Task Force (FATF) report titled Financial flows linked to the production and trafficking of Afghan opiates, sheds light on some of the methodologies employed in the production and trafficking of Afghan opiates including heroin.

The stages of cleaning dirty money

Money laundering takes place in three stages. The stages are: placement, layering, and integration. These stages are commonly used by launderers to launder their illicit funds and assets. Let’s understand how these stages help them to hide illegal money from detection by enforcement.

Placement

This is the initial stage where the drug dealers try to introduce the illicit proceeds or financial assets made from their deals to a legal financial institution. There are different methods that can be used, such as smurfing, using shell companies, trade-based money laundering, or bulk-cash smuggling. This is to make sure that the drug dealers can hide the source of the funds from law enforcement, since the money being laundered is in bulk and could attract more attention.

Layering

The purpose of layering is to cut down the bulk in funds and make them into smaller transactions that can be transferred to different jurisdictions virtually. The layering/structuring stage is meant to convert the illicit money into a series of complex transactions that will prevent law enforcement agencies from tracking the source of income. There are different techniques of layering, such as a virtual transfer of funds, which is also known as a wire transfer; transferring funds to an offshore account, which is an account held in an offshore (foreign) bank; a walking account, where funds are supposed to be transferred through various layers of different accounts, shell corporations, etc. The funds can also be used to trade stocks in a foreign market in order to cover the money trail.

Integration

Integration is the final stage of money laundering, in which the monies can now become a part of the financial system, allowing the laundered funds to be reintegrated into the economy as ‘legal’ funds. After the monies have been broken down into smaller transactions and their original source has been converted from unlawful to legal, this is achievable. Drug dealers can utilise their laundered money as legitimate income at this stage of integration. They may use these monies to buy luxurious assets, items, or homes that will not attract much attention or appear suspicious to the authorities.

Money laundering techniques used by drug cartels

As previously stated, washing dirty money entails employing the three stages of money laundering and the strategies associated with each. The launderer utilises the illegal proceeds to reintroduce them into the financial system in a legitimate manner. The monies are then structured in a complicated series of transactions before being integrated into the legal economy, which moves around from conducting financial transfers to becoming a true ‘financial asset or purchase.’

Since integration is the last stage of the three-stage model for cleaning dirty money/money laundering, by this time, tracing the funds back to the original narcotic sale sources is a highly difficult task for law enforcement agencies. At this time, the funds have traveled past too many legitimate procedures. This is why drug cartels use money laundering methods to make their illegal profits legal without the authorities being able to detect it.

The following are some of the techniques used by drug dealers to clean dirty money:

Cash Smuggling

Common smuggling of currency seems to be on the rise. Cash smuggling means physically transferring/moving the cash to another country and depositing the amount in a bank located there. In order to make transferring the funds easier, shipment officials or businesses have been set up by the drug dealers. US customs will less likely check the shipment leaving the country than check shipment entering the country.

Structuring or ‘Smurfing’

In this scenario, one needs to break down their total cash deposits into pocket amounts below the reported threshold of $10,000. There are couriers known as smurfs, who are used to make these deposits into different banks or buy cashier’s cheques in small denominations.

Wire transfers

The transfer of funds virtually, from one country to another, is called a wire transfer. This may include sending the money to a person, an entity, or an account. The wire transfers remain as the main tool at all stages of the money laundering process, especially in the stage of layering operations. The illicit funds can be transferred through various different banks in different countries in order to merge and hide the trails to the original source.

Shell companies

The drug dealers make use of shell companies or front companies as a way to buy other financial assets that can help them move the money during the layering stage. This way, the money can be used to buy property, sitting still in the account in a foreign jurisdiction for safekeeping, and so on. Shell corporations help to move the funds/assets around, a person can use one or more to complicate the money trail even further.

Big banks involved in laundering drug money

In order to counter drug trafficking and money laundering, many countries introduced or strengthened border controls on the amount of cash that can be carried. They have also introduced central transaction reporting systems where all financial institutions have to report all financial transactions electronically.

These anti-money laundering regulations have emerged as a much larger burden for banks and financial institutions and enforcement has stepped up significantly. During 2011–2015, a number of major banks were caught laundering drug money and were given hefty fines for breaches of regulations. Two of the most prominent ones are given below.

Wachovia

Now part of Wells Fargo, Wachovia was one of the biggest banks in the US. In 2010, the bank was found to have allowed drug cartels in Mexico to launder close to US$390 billion through its branches during 2004-2007. The drug cartels used to smuggle US dollars received from drug sales in the US across the Mexican border. Then, they used money exchangers to deposit the money into their bank accounts in Mexico, where regulatory requirements with regard to the source of funds were not on par with current standards. Later, the money was wired back to Wachovia’s accounts in the US, and the bank failed to check the origin of these funds.  In addition, the drug cartels used Wachovia’s bulk cash service to ship back bank notes to the US.

HSBC

In 2012, HSBC agreed to pay a $1.9 billion fine to regulators for serving as a middleman for drug cartels. The bank provided money-laundering services of more than US$881 million to drug cartels including Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel.

Detection of money laundering by drug cartels

While criminals are quick to adapt technological advancement with financial transactions such as cryptocurrencies, financial institutions and regulators need to be more proactive to counter the misuse by drug cartels. Meanwhile, financial institutions should look at technological opportunities to prevent money laundering with these new-age transaction methods.

A provider of proven and in-deployment AML solutions for large and small financial institutions, Tookitaki developed a first-of-a-kind Global Typology Library which effectively addresses the pitfalls of the current AML transaction monitoring ecosystem. Our growing centralised repository of money laundering typologies are sourced from financial institutions, AML experts and regulators. Typologies refer to patterns that are used to finance or launder money for illicit activities like drug trafficking, forced labour, forgery, terrorism etc.

As our Global Typology Library can be scaled to include any type of typologies across products, locations, techniques and predicate offence, our solution can detect money laundering by drug cartels. Our solution provides improved risk coverage for financial institutions. It enhances process efficiency with accurate triaging of alerts and helps make faster business decisions with around a 70% reduction in manual work.

 

To learn more about our AML solution and its unique features, please contact us

 

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Comment by Nichole on May 18, 2021

How much for drugs

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Why Neo Banks Might Need a Different Customer Risk Assessment Approach

As financial institutions go increasingly digital in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, physical verification of customers’ identity and paper forms might become practices of the past. In many countri...

Transaction Monitoring in Fintech: Challenges and Solutions

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the global economy with long-lasting implications for companies and consumers, the Fintech sector has largely been resilient with notable growth across most ge...

Getting Ready for Future: An AML Compliance Guide for Fintechs

The internet revolution and the smartphone revolution have changed the course of operations in many industries. The digital era brought about significant enhancements to economic utilities — in ...

Covid-19 and compliance challenges for payment companies

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought in fundamental changes to many industries, and the payments sector is no exception. Consumers across the globe now have a different approach as they consider commerce...

Assessing AML Compliance at Neobanks: Issues and Solutions

Considered the digital era’s answer to financial inclusion, neo-banking is rising to prominence, shattering the historical monopoly and hegemony of traditional banking. As populations across the glo...

How Criminals Launder COVID Funds via Online Investment Platforms

Fraud targeting governments’ pandemic-related welfare programs have seen criminals exploiting these schemes ever since countries started helping their citizens and businesses. If reports are correct...

Crowdfunding: Yet Another Unconventional Means to Launder Money

Having transformed many ideas into profitable businesses, crowdfunding, a new-gen investment trend enabled by the internet, has become the first resort for many entrepreneurs and small businesses. The...

The Crackdown on Shell Companies and the Role of Technology

The Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) 2020, enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2021 of the US in January this year, had many key provisions to take the Anti-Money Launderi...

Tookitaki Powers AI-Driven Anti-Money Laundering Solution Using HPE GreenLake

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced a key collaboration with Tookitaki to provide a new offering designed for banks and financial institutions across Asia-Pacific. The new offering delivers T...

AMLA 2020: 8 Key Provisions that Financial Institutions Required to Know

The US Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2021 on January 1, 2021, addressing a variety of pressing concerns related to the nation’s security. The act included a number of...

The Rising Case for RegTech to Address AML Risks Amid COVID-19

Emerged as a subset of FinTech, the Regulatory Technology (RegTech) industry has now gone more mainstream, thanks to regulators and industry practitioners. Recently, there have been many pro-RegTech c...

Hakrinbank Selects Tookitaki to Ensure Sustainable Financial Compliance Monitoring

Tookitaki announced a partnership with Hakrinbank, a leading South American bank based in Suriname, to fortify its Anti-Money Laundering (AML) detection and alerts management capabilities. To improve...

Breaking Barriers: 5 Key Insights on RegTech Adoption

HKMA in a report shared comprehensive hands-on experience and insights from respondents to better understand the factors and dependencies affecting AML/CFT Regtech adoption. The regulator collaborated...

How to Address Present-day Sanctions Screening Pain Points with AI

Sanctions risk of financial institutions is evolving in line with the global social, economic and political changes. As seen in recent news, governments across the globe are increasingly relying on sa...

Tookitaki Got Selected for FinTech Program: Asia meets Tokyo

Tookitaki has been listed among 8 Fintech startups in Asia for FinTech Program: Asia meets Tokyo, an accelerator launched by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG). We have been selected for our anti...

AML Alert Management: How AI can Augment Your Compliance Efficiency

The financial sector is facing one monster of a problem at the moment. As today’s financial institutions deal with millions of daily transactions, several thousands of routine financial transactions...

Tookitaki Recognised for Innovative Use of AI & Machine Learning

Tookitaki has won the Regtech Award for AI & Machine Learning and was highly commended in the solutions category for AML/CTF Compliance, in the 3rd Regulation Asia Awards for Excellence 2020 ...

Our UOB Success Tale: Setting a New Benchmark for AI-based AML Compliance

Tookitaki achieved a rare and historic milestone as our Anti-Money Laundering Suite (AMLS) solution went live within the premises of United Overseas Bank (UOB), one of the top 3 banks in Singapore.

Tookitaki Wins 2020 WITSA Digital Innovation Award

Tookitaki has won the 2020 Digital Innovation Award from the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA) as part of the industry body’s Global ICT Excellence Awards. Nominated by...

Money Laundering via Cryptocurrencies: All You Need to Know

Money laundering via cryptocurrency has been going on for a while now. We’ve all heard of Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin. Crypto is used by financial criminals globally but how are they getting away...

CNA 938 radio interviews Tookitaki Co-founder Jeeta Badopadhyay

Tookitaki Co-founder and COO Jeeta Bandopadhyay was named among the Singapore 100 Women in Tech (SG100WIT) List in September 2020. A collaboration between the Singapore Computer Society (SCS), IMDA, S...

Need for New Customer Risk Rating Models: Not All Customers Are Created Equal

Being estimated at between US$800 billion to US$2 trillion every year, money laundering is a serious problem for the global economy. While regulators and financial institutions are working hard to pre...

Is AML Compliance Heading for a New Normal in the Age of Digital Payments?

Increased digitization has influenced various businesses and brought in a paradigm shift in the way they create business models and approach growth opportunities. Moving away from conventional transac...

Excel to AI: How Reconciliation Tools Evolve for Better

In the world of finance, reconciliation is the process of comparing two related sets of records or two accounts at the end of a specific accounting period to find out if account balances are matching ...

Lessons Not Well Learned: 2020 AML Fines Cross 2019 Total

If research is to be believed, institutions across the globe have not done enough in the anti-money laundering (AML) compliance area. Data from consultancy Duff & Phelps revealed that AML fines in...

Exploring AML Risks in COVID-Era and the Ways to Address Them

The world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis it brought in is unprecedented in the history of humankind. While there are a number of pandemic-related factors contributing to the ...

AML Amid COVID-19: Watch out for These FBI-listed Fraud Schemes

There has been a rise in the number of cybercrimes and fraud schemes across the globe ever since the proliferation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Criminals, in general, are taking advantage of people’s s...

OCC Spring Risk Perspective: 5 Takeaways on Compliance Risk

Despite its general strength, the US federal banking system is apparently susceptible to the ongoing economic weakness caused by the rampant spread of coronavirus. Earlier this month, The US Office of...

How Criminals Used COVID-19 Sales Pitch to Defraud, Launder Money

As the world is working hard to contain the spread of the COVID-19, criminals continue to take advantage of the pandemic. They are devising sophisticated methods to defraud people and launder the crim...

5 Top Myths and Facts about AI Implementation in AML Programs

We are more confirmed about the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to transform lives and businesses now. There are countless possible applications of AI and machine learning at present, and we see...

Typology Repository Management: Solving AML Problems Via Collective Intelligence and Continuous Learning

Despite its general strength, the US federal banking system is apparently susceptible to the ongoing economic weakness caused by the rampant spread of coronavirus. Earlier this month, The US Office of...

Whitepaper: Automated AML Pattern Detection Using Network Science

Despite its general strength, the US federal banking system is apparently susceptible to the ongoing economic weakness caused by the rampant spread of coronavirus. Earlier this month, The US Office of...

Money Laundering Amid COVID-19: What Regulators Across Globe Say

As the world continues to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, there are reports that criminals are taking advantage of the difficult situation. They are seizing the moment to proliferate their crimin...

How will Art Cease to Be a Preferred Money Laundering Vehicle?

Money laundering via high-end art and antiquities is not new yet it is difficult to detect. Art-related money laundering amounts to about US$3 billion per year, according to this blog, quoting the Uni...

Beware! Money Mules in Demand amid COVID-19. Here’s an Effective Cure

If reports are to be believed, cybercrooks are taking advantage of the COVID-19 situation. They are targeting people who were laid off or working from home due to the pandemic to work for them as mone...

How do we weather a tornado of change?

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance” – Samuel Johnson All of us are in challenging times. However, we cannot afford to be lethargic to life, work, and busi...

Roundtable Rewind: Embracing Next-gen Tech & Collaboration Key to Sustainability

As a regtech player with a vision to enable sustainable compliance programs in financial institutions, Tookitaki organized a first-of-its-kind industry roundtable in Charlotte, NC, USA to discuss oppo...

Tookitaki Appoints Industry Veteran Joe Friscia as Advisor

Tookitaki Holding Pte. Ltd. appointed industry veteran Joe Friscia, former President of NICE Actimize and BAE Systems as Advisor to the Company’s Advisory Board. Joe brings over 25 years’ extensi...

Should Modern Machines Be Ethical?

There are mounting concerns across the globe about the reliability and safety of artificial intelligence (AI) based systems and its enabling technologies such as machine learning (ML). On the air are ...

Tookitaki Raises Another US$11.7 million in Series A; Closes Round at US$19.2 million

– by Abhishek Chatterjee, Founder & CEO The Tookitaki team and I are excited to announce that we have raised an additional US$11.7 million in Series A funding, taking the total investment in...

30 Years of FATF: Notable Facts About Global AML Watchdog

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the intergovernmental body formed in 1989 to combating money laundering, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Since its inception, the global agency p...

Tookitaki Joins Aite Financial Crime Forum as Sponsor

Technological advances have fundamentally changed the operational landscape of financial institutions. However, there are also new risks emerging in forms of sophisticated financial frauds and complex...

Will Machine Learning Replace Compliance Professionals?

The impact of modern technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning on job security has been a widely discussed topic today. Of course, AI has advanced very quickly in the last...

6 Most Prevalent Cyber-Laundering Methods in APAC

Despite being a medium to exchange information in real-time and with scale, the Internet is being misused in several ways. Among the slew of financial crimes facilitated by the Internet, money launder...

What Made Us Earn the WEF Technology Pioneer Title

Tookitaki has bagged another global acknowledgement for its outstanding works in the regulatory compliance field. Our company was selected among hundreds of candidates as one of the World Economic Fo...

We Stay as a Team, We Win as a Team and We Flourish as a Team

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to a...

ABA Regulatory Compliance Conference: 10 Sessions You Can’t Miss

The 2019 edition of the American Bankers Association (ABA) Regulatory Compliance Conference is a few more days away. Organized by the Washington, D.C.-based trade association, the conference is touted...

Tookitaki AMLS Wins SBR Technology Excellence Award 2019

Tookitaki’s Anti-Money Laundering Suite (AMLS), an end-to-end machine learning-powered transaction monitoring and names screening solution, has bagged the inaugural Singapore Business Review Tec...

Watchdogs Grow Optimistic about AI Prospects at Banks

Proper regulation of banking operations is important as any failure in the banking system would affect the wider economy. Therefore, banking is one of the most regulated industries across the globe. F...

Pitfall of Black Box AI at Banks: Explaining Your Models to Regulators

The use cases of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in front-office, middle-office and back-office activities at banks are growing slowly but steadily. The major areas of AI play includ...

AI for Regulatory Compliance at Banks: 4 Assessments Before You Okay the Solution Proposal

Banking is one of the industries where artificial intelligence and machine learning find their applications at a rapid pace. Regulatory compliance within banking is an area which has become a costly a...

We Believe in Innovation, the Key to Survival and Growth

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” -Steve Jobs What comes on the top of your screen when you google the meaning of the word innovation is – the introduction of somet...

Compliance Functions in Need of a Technological Overhaul. Can Machine Learning be the Game-Changer?

McKinsey in its latest compliance benchmarking survey found that compliance function at financial institutions has reached “an inflection point” and current compliance standards are in an “incho...

Tookitaki Raises US$7.5 mn Series A from Global VCs to Transform Regulatory Compliance

Tookitaki, a regulatory technology company that aims to enable financial institutions to develop sustainable compliance programs, has raised US$7.5 million in Series A round. The round was co-led by L...

The Biggest Money Laundering Cases: From Wachovia to Danske Bank

Money laundering – the criminal activity of processing criminal proceeds to disguise their origin – is one of the gravest problems faced by the global economy, and its size is growing rapidly. It ...

A Modern Approach to Address the Reconciliation Challenges of Financial Services

Reconciliation of transactions is deemed critical for the smooth running of every financial institution. The speed and accuracy of data reconciliation can distinguish a successful institution from its...

Busting a Myth: Compliance Officer’s Job is All About Risk

Regulatory compliance has become a dreadful task for banks after regulators across the globe set stricter norms in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis in an effort to prevent financial crimes s...

Attending ACAMS Conference in Singapore? Tookitaki Awaits You with Its Disruptive AML Solution

“In today’s era of volatility, there is no other way but to re-invent. The only sustainable advantage you can have over others is agility, that’s it.”- Jeff Bezos Singapore is hosting ACAMS’...

MAS’ Stress on Transaction Monitoring for Effective AML/CFT Compliance and Machine Learning is the Answer

Singapore is known for its top-notch AML/CFT regime created through up-to-date legislation, stringent policy and uncompromising supervision to safeguard against the abuse of the city state’s financi...

Mifid II and the Pressing Need for a New Reconciliation Approach

The financial services industry in the EU has been confused with the introduction of a revamped version of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (Mifid II). The ambitious regulatory reforms t...

Is Automated Reconciliation Next to Impossible in Today’s Complex Financial World?

The 2008 global financial crisis and fairly new regulatory requirements like Basel III asked financial institutions (FIs) to cut operating costs and adopt a lean operations structure, pushing FIs to r...

Modern Tech to Reshape US AML Compliance with Regulators’ Recent Handshake

George Bernard Shaw once said: “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” The past week has seen a significant change of mind from financial regulators in the US in their ardent...

Skills Development: We Have Talents and We Strive to Multiply Them

“Mastery lies on an infinite continuum, and as a result, we will never reach the end. We can, however, see to it that we are as far along that continuum as our circumstance allows.” ― Chris Mat...

It’s Our Fourth Founding Day; Taking a Pause to Cherish Our Simple but Awesome Journey

Today, as we step into our 4th year of foundation, I feel proud and honored to be leading Tookitaki that has been successful in creating added value to all its stakeholders. I was never a CEO and Took...

Tookitaki Expands into the US with New Office in Charlotte

SINGAPORE, Sept. 24, 2018: Tookitaki Holding Pte Ltd, a leading regulatory technology company, is pleased to announce the official opening of its North American office in Charlotte, NC, in the Unite...

We Tame Machines but We Unleash Human Spirits

We are well aware of the fact that our progress as an organization is in the hands of our employees. The more energy, time and attention we invest in them, the more yield we receive. So, we always mak...

5 Modern Money Laundering Methods That Criminals Use

Modern money launderers are updating their methods to beat detection and avoid getting caught every single day. Where there is new technology, cryptocurrencies and processes, there is a money laundere...

Risk Management Conference: Positive Vibes from All Corners

The Risk Management Association’s (RMA) premier annual event, the Risk Management Conference, came to an end on 6 November, and Tookitaki had the privilege to attend the event which we believe was ...

Singapore Fintech Festival: Tookitaki to showcase advanced machine learning solutions in financial services

Singapore is assured of the Fintech world’s unwavering attention next week, as the city state, is hosting this year’s Fintech Festival during 12-16 November. Touted as the world’s largest platfo...

The RMA Clarion Call to Address Risks and the Tookitaki Way

Risk officers, doing your best today is good while preparing hard for tomorrow is extraordinary. Risk management at banks has become difficult due to operational and regulatory changes. The Risk Manag...