Money Laundering - by definition means to hide illicit income, or disguise it in a form that it no longer appears to be illegitimate. This can be done in a variety of ways. Money laundering can be as simple as stashing away illicit cash in a big bag, so that apart from the person hiding it, nobody else knows about it. In the modern world however, criminals tend to lock up their illicit money in foreign banks, with less stringent bank laws, or hide it in the form of investment in a business, or discreetly purchase personal property.
Money laundering is a punishable offence by law. In October 2005, U.S congressman Tom Delay was charged with money laundering, forcing him to step down as House Majority Leader. In U.S the average prison sentence for Money laundering is six years. In late December 2006, the Chinese authorities uncovered a five billion Yuan (633 million U.S Dollars) money laundering scandal, the country’s biggest ever. Apparently this scandal was only accidently exposed following a probe into false business registrations, raising fears over how money laundering can be easily concealed.
With the rise of global finances, money laundering has become easier than ever. Countries with bank secrecy laws are directly connected with countries with bank-reporting laws, making it easy to carry out anonymous transactions to deposit “dirty” money. Also, with recent technological advances, money can zip through two countries in a flash. Considering that an estimated 700,000 wire transfers occur daily in the United States moving well over $2 trillion, illicit wire transfers are easily hidden.
The advent of internet and electronic cash has made money laundering an easy affair, and extremely difficult to trace. DigiCash, a form of electronic cash introduced by an Amsterdam based company is said to be the most secure form of electronic cash available. It uses a technology called ‘blinding’ which makes it unconditionally untraceable, thus making it a boon for money launderers across the globe. Recently UK authorities busted a gang of international criminals trying to launder £229 million from a City bank by exploiting the high-tech security measures designed to protect money transfers.
That brings us to our next question. Is money laundering only used by individuals to hide their illegitimate money? Recently, the United Nations’ crime and drug watchdog has indicated that “dirty” money made in the illicit drug trade has been used to bailout large banks in the global financial crisis, since it was the only form of liquid capital available. The amount of money involved in this bailout is said to be hundreds of billions, which could make this the largest money laundering operation in the history of the world.
While it is impossible to ascertain the statistics of money laundering, a frequently cited figure places it to be about 2-5% of the worldwide global economy. With no discreet data available for the statistics these are just mere guesses and the actual figures are estimated to be much higher. Money laundering is a huge problem, and although current money laundering laws apply to cyber laundering, their efficiency is rather limited.
The truth is that although Money laundering may not be a common thing now, technology has created the means and ability to launder money by use of completely untraceable digital currency, and the future may have something different in store for us.