Follow the Dirty Money

Published on Global, by Robert Mazur, Sept. 15, 2010.

… Revenues from global drug trafficking — estimated to add up to more than $400 billion a year — are just one small component of the money, known as flight capital, that criminals try to hide from governments. This capital also includes proceeds from things like tax evasion, trade with countries under sanctions and arms dealing. It’s big business. The desire to have a share in this business has led the private client divisions of many international banks to develop sophisticated skills to avoid scrutiny from regulators.

Tracking and confiscating the fortunes of terrorist organizations, drug cartels and organized criminals is important for national security, and yet no single federal law enforcement agency systematically investigates the international bankers and businessmen who launder this money.

What’s needed is a small but elite multi-agency task force, including representatives of the intelligence community and accomplished members of law enforcement agencies from other nations, that could identify the institutions and businesses that handle the bulk of the dirty money flowing around the globe. A task force numbering 100 people or less, at least initially, could compile a database containing detailed information about bad banks and money launderers.

Some of this data could be culled from the various law enforcement agencies’ existing files. But investigators should also debrief the hundreds of high-level criminals now being held in our prisons to get detailed information about their allies in the banking and business community.

The task force should also try to identify every asset used by major criminal and terrorist organizations. If one of them buys a million-dollar airplane, for example, investigators should find out where the money to buy it came from. All this information should be kept in the same database.

It would be important for this task force to have access to records of the Federal Reserve and the central banks of cooperating nations to find out which financial institutions are depositing large amounts of American dollars. (If investigators had had such access years ago, it would have been easy for them to see the billions in currency that Wachovia was shipping from Mexico.) By getting access to wire systems operated by the Fed and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, investigators could also identify and track the accounts for which banks convert cash into wire transfers. Here again, the information should be added to the database. Eventually, all this collected data could reveal a pattern of activity that would point to dirty bankers and businessmen.

To make use of this intelligence, undercover agents from around the world should be trained and equipped with the tools needed to infiltrate the banking and business community. Working with the information in the database, they could inflict a devastating blow to the fortunes of the underworld and its money launderers. Finally, the government would be able to prosecute the people personally responsible for laundering billions of dollars worth of criminal profits.

Robert Mazur, a former federal agent, is the author of “The Infiltrator,” a memoir about his undercover life as a money launderer. He is the president of a private investigative agency. (full text).

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