|Author: Mr. Amaru Bah|
Money laundering is critical to the effective operation of virtually every form of transnational and organised crime. Anti-money-laundering efforts, which are designed to prevent or limit the ability of criminals to use their ill-gotten gains, are both a critical and effective component of anti-crime programmes.
Money laundering generally involves a series of multiple transactions used to disguise the source of financial assets so that those assets may be used without compromising the criminals who are seeking to use them. These transactions typically fall into three stages: (1) placement -- the process of placing unlawful proceeds into financial institutions through deposits, wire transfers, or other means; (2) layering -- the process of separating the proceeds of criminal activity from their origin through the use of layers of complex financial transactions; and (3) integration -- the process of using an apparently legitimate transaction to disguise illicit proceeds. Through these processes, a criminal tries to transform the monetary proceeds derived from illicit activities into funds with an apparently legal source.
Money laundering has potentially devastating economic, security, and social consequences. It provides the fuel for drug dealers, terrorists, illegal arms dealers, corrupt public officials, and others to operate and expand their criminal enterprises.
Crime has become increasingly international in scope, and the financial aspects of Money Laundering. Crime has become more complex due to rapid advances in technology and the globalization of the financial services industry.
Modern financial systems, in addition to facilitating legitimate commerce, also allow criminals to order the transfer of millions of dollars instantly using personal computers and satellite dishes. Because money laundering relies to some extent on existing financial systems and operations, the criminal's choice of money laundering vehicles is limited only by his or her creativity.
Money is laundered through currency exchange houses, stock brokerage houses, gold dealers, casinos, automobile dealerships, insurance companies, and trading companies, private banking facilities, offshore banking, shell corporations, free trade zones, wire systems and trade financing, all can mask illegal activities.
In doing so, criminals manipulate financial systems both locally and internationally.
Unchecked, money laundering can erode the integrity of a nation's financial institutions. Due to the high integration of capital markets, money laundering can also adversely affect currencies and interest rates. Ultimately, laundered money flows into global financial systems, where it can undermine national economies and currencies. Money laundering is thus not only a law-enforcement problem; it poses a serious national and international security threat as well.
The Economic effects of Money Laundering: One of the most serious
microeconomic effects of money laundering is felt in the commercial sector.
Money launderers often use front companies, which co-mingle the proceeds of illicit activity with legitimate funds, to hide the ill-gotten gains.
In the United States, for example, organised crime has used pizza parlors to mask proceeds from heroin trafficking. These front companies have access to substantial illicit funds, allowing them to subsidize front company products and services at levels well below market rates.
In some cases, front companies are able to offer products at prices below what it costs the manufacturer to produce advantage over legitimate firms that draw capital funds from financial markets. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for legitimate business to compete against front companies with subsidised funding, a situation that can result in the crowding out of private sector business by criminal organizations. Clearly, the management principles of these criminal enterprises are not consistent with traditional free market principles of legitimate business, which results in further negative macroeconomic effects.
Economic Distortion and Instability: Money launderers are not interested in profit generation from their investments but rather in protecting their proceeds. Thus they “invest" their funds in activities that are not necessarily economically beneficial to the country where the funds are located. Furthermore, to the extent that money laundering and financial crime redirect funds from sound investments to low-quality investments that hide their proceeds, economic growth can suffer.
In some countries, for example, entire industries, such as construction and hotels, have been financed not because of actual demand, but because of the short-term interests of money launderers. When these industries no longer suit the money launderers, they abandon accordingly.
Loss of Revenue: Money laundering diminishes government tax revenue and
therefore indirectly harms honest taxpayers. It also makes government tax collection more difficult. This loss of revenue generally means higher tax rates than would normally be the case if the untaxed proceeds of crime were legitimate.
Reputation Risk: Nations cannot afford to have their reputations and financial
institutions tarnished by an association with money laundering, especially in today's global economy. Confidence in markets and in the signaling role of profits is eroded by money laundering and financial crimes such as the laundering of criminal proceeds, widespread financial fraud, insider trading of securities, and embezzlement. The negative reputation that results from these activities diminishes legitimate global opportunities and sustainable growth while attracting international criminal organizations with undesirable reputations and short-term goals. This can result in diminished development and economic growth.
Furthermore, once a country's financial reputation is damaged, reviving it is very difficult and requires significant government resources to rectify a problem that could be prevented with proper anti-money-laundering controls.
Social Costs: There are significant social costs and risks associated with money laundering. Money laundering is a process vital to making crime worthwhile. It allows drug traffickers, smugglers, and other criminals to expand their operations. This drives up the cost of government due to the need for increased law enforcement and health care expenditures (for example, for treatment of drug addicts) to combat the serious consequences that result.
Among its other negative socioeconomic effects, money laundering transfers economic power from the market, government, and citizens to criminals. In short, it turns the old adage that crime doesn't pay on its head.
Furthermore, the sheer magnitude of the economic power that accrues to criminals from money laundering has a corrupting effect on all elements of society. In extreme cases, it can lead to the virtual takeover of legitimate government.
Overall, money laundering presents the world community with a complex and dynamic challenge. Indeed, the global nature of money laundering requires global standards and international cooperation if we are to reduce the ability of criminals to launder their proceeds and carry out their criminal activities.
In conclusion, analysis have shown that criminals are ready to lose up to 40% of the total funds generated from criminal activities just to get it integrated into system legitimately. Therefore the fight against money laundering will never be an easy one; however with strong partnership among stakeholders, combating money laundering and financial terrorism will be a success.