International Money Laundering Through Real Estate and Agribusiness – A Criminal Justice Perspective from the “Panama Papers”

International Money Laundering Through Real Estate and Agribusiness – A Criminal Justice Perspective from the “Panama Papers”

Properties like real estate and agribusiness have been discovered by criminals as an effective and clandestine way to launder money nationally and internationally. Ownership of properties is obscured through shell companies, fake documentation, and variations on family names listed on deeds. Legal mechanisms available to hold property without disclosing the actual owner’s name make tracing money difficult. Wealthy people, including foreigners, are buying property in the United States at a brisk pace with few questions asked, even as border security is tightened against poor immigrants trying to cross into the country. Figuring out whose money is behind these properties and shell companies proves difficult.

According to Peter Alldridge, mass media depicts money laundering as bad, interesting, and daring, but never explains exactly what it is, why it is done, or why it is so damaging. This book explores the novel and known ways money is being laundered in the world. The book reveals how new financial techniques used by criminals are going ignored and undetected. Indeed, money laundering is an international crime challenging the very sovereignty of nations.

The core discussion of this book is money laundering involving real estate and agribusiness. The Panama Papers revealed that these sectors are replete with legal loopholes that easily permit the laundering of millions of dollars. Properties constitute an attractive line of business for the practice of money laundering given the large monetary transactions involved and the general confidentiality surrounding property transactions. The real estate and agribusiness sectors are susceptible to use by money launderers, who also use nonprofit organizations, foundations, remittance companies, offshore accounts, and clandestine wire transfers to launder ill-gotten gains.

The purpose of this book is to inquire into the scale of the problem and look into legislative and institutional loopholes that lend power and mobility to organized crime, thereby making it a more deeply entrenched source of unprecedented illicit wealth. The carefree attitude which has characterized law enforcement in this area must be confronted with a realistic understanding of the problem and must go beyond the adoption of measures taken in isolation or in an uncoordinated manner. I hope that this book will serve as a useful guide for law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, and others involved in efforts to curb money laundering and terrorism financing. I also hope that this book prompts specialists to speak up to prevent real estate and agribusiness from being used and manipulated for illegal purposes.

This book is divided into six chapters along with this Introduction. Chapter 1 addresses money laundering through real estate. This chapter first looks at two U.S. forfeiture actions against a government officer of Equatorial Guinea, revealing the difficult task of restraining financial criminals. It then discusses the influx of global cash fueling New York City’s high-end real estate boom. The New York Times investigation pierced the secrecy of more than 200 shell companies that have owned condominiums at a single complex. Chapter 2 untangles the complex situation when criminals launder ill-gotten gains through agribusinesses. Chapter 3 analyzes various money laundering typologies that were revealed by the “Panama Papers”. Chapter 4 discusses efforts to combat money laundering, including property confiscation, international legal cooperation, and asset repatriation. Chapter 5 offers conclusions. Chapter 6 covers national and international proposals for improving the industry so as to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing. These proposals call for a broader institutional and regulatory improvement, extending beyond mere regulation of the market.

Although this book may, at a glance, appear to have covered the subject, this is far from the case. The book aims at a logical and practical completeness in describing an unexplored and virtually unknown world in which real estate and agribusinesses are used in the commission of serious crimes.


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