Money laundering is the illegal process of making large amounts of money generated by a criminal activity, such as drug trafficking or terrorist funding, appear to have come from a legitimate source. The money from the criminal activity is considered dirty, and the process “launders” it to make it look clean.
Money laundering is a threat to the good functioning of a financial system; however, it can also be the Achilles heel of criminal activity. In law enforcement investigations into organised criminal activity, it is often the connections made through financial transaction records that allow hidden assets to be located and that establish the identity of the criminals and the criminal organisation responsible. When criminal funds are derived from robbery, extortion, embezzlement or fraud, a money laundering investigation is frequently the only way to locate the stolen funds and restore them to the victims. Most importantly, however, targeting the money laundering aspect of criminal activity and depriving the criminal of his ill-gotten gains means hitting him where he is vulnerable. Without a usable profit, the criminal activity will not continue.
Most disturbing of all, money-laundering fuels corruption and organized crime. Corrupt public officials need to be able to launder bribes, kick-backs, public funds and, on occasion, even development loans from international financial institutions. Organized criminal groups need to be able to launder the proceeds of drug trafficking and commodity smuggling. Terrorist groups use money-laundering channels to get cash to buy arms. The social consequences of allowing these groups to launder money can be disastrous. Taking the proceeds of crimes from corrupt public officials, traffickers and organized crime groups is one of the best ways to stop criminals in their tracks.