COVID Leaves Bags of Illicit Cash with Nowhere to Go
Few people may have given much thought to the actual mechanics of money laundering beyond rooting (or not) for Skyler and Walt’s carwash business. Many non-television criminals do, in fact, use otherwise legitimate small businesses to “launder” their money, mixing ill-gotten gains in with legitimate profits. The shutdown of the international economy has thus had a surprising consequence: illicit funds have nowhere to go to get “clean.”
The Los Angeles Times identified the “tremendous impact” the COVID business shutdown has had on the “black market peso exchange” that normally keeps money moving between the United States and Mexico. The effect is immediately obvious to law enforcement. In the last few weeks, police raids have recovered millions of dollars at levels not seen in years.
This is not just in the US. Across the globe, law enforcement raids are recovering greater than usual sums. An early May raid in the Netherlands, for example, found 12.5 million euros in one house. Last year, the Dutch police netted approximately the same amount over the course of five raids.
The breakdown in physical money laundering stratagems is sure to have far-reaching effects that cannot yet be predicted. Whether criminals move their operations online, use crypto schemes, or develop as-yet unknown strategies for moving money around the globe, COVID is unlikely to stop the big business of moving illegal money. For that reason, international law enforcement is flashing a number of warnings that they expect money-laundering prosecution to get harder, not easier.
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