HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsMoney laundering not a victimless crime

Money laundering not a victimless crime

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In a week in which R’n’B megastar Alliaune Badara Thiam (Akon), dancehall superstar Ryan Henriques (Sean Paul) and Windies cricket legend Brian Lara were in town, even FSS couldn’t help a bit of indulgence by officially taking notice of these “kings of bling” in this financial column.

For those familiar with this writer, the mention of music should hardly be surprising as it is — particularly jazz music — a labour of love.

But rest assured that we will not be veering into music territory in this week’s instalment of FSS. The only reason for mentioning it is that it made the past week an auspicious one.

A day after Akon jetted into the country, something equally significant also caught my attention – government was reported to have rejected a $50 billion loan from a company called Norange Capital Markets of South Africa after security checks revealed that this largesse might be dirty and the company may have been attempting to do some laundry work. In street lingo, Winky D would call it “kuwachisa madinga”.

Immediately, I knew I had the subject of this week’s edition of FSS; the substance or lack thereof of the offer was another matter altogether. For me the allegations of money laundering were adequately eye-catching, if not eye-popping.

Anyway, as you might have wondered, why didn’t government just accept the money and solve its many problems? After all the loan was payable over a whopping 30 years and subject to a negotiable annual interest rate of only 3%!

Imagine what the tidy sum of $50 billion would have achieved, practically overnight. For starters government would have taken care of its debt of $7,1 billion by refinancing it at a lower cost and for a longer repayment period.

Secondly, government would have finally increased civil servants’ salaries (it’s decidedly bad economics to borrow for consumption, but what can one do with no other meaningful source of development aid, apart from “eating what one kills”?) and could certainly have speeded up quite a number of infrastructural projects, particularly in the power sector.

So what exactly is this animal that answers to the name Money Laundering, which caused government to pass up what, to all intents and purposes, appeared to be financial manna? Money laundering is the process of making criminal assets appear legitimate.

The assets are not necessarily in the form of money; they could be anything of value.

They may not necessarily be proceeds of crime; they can be assets intended for use in future crime, sometimes humorously called the “precedes” of crime, in a play of words on “proceeds” of crime.

Apparently, the main drivers of money laundering are drugs, corruption, organised crime, fraud, terrorism and civil war. Just under two weeks ago, $70 000 worth of heroin was seized at the Harare International Airport.

Zimbabwe is increasingly being used as a transit route for drugs from other parts of the world to South Africa, and that heightens the risk of money laundering.

Typically, criminal assets are laundered in a three-stage cycle comprising placement, layering and integration.

Placement

This is the process of how cash, such as small denomination notes typically generated by drug trafficking, are quickly dispersed away from the scene of a crime and placed in the financial system.

The cash may have passed through a series of businesses that trade on a cash basis, such as shops or restaurants in order to mix up the amounts involved and disguise their distinguishing characteristics.

The money is then banked in amounts designed to avoid cash deposit or suspicious activity report filing requirements.

Layering
This a process meant to further hide the illegal nature of the assets and it involves repeated banking and commercial transactions designed to make the real origin of the assets as hard as possible to identify and to prevent the construction of an audit trail leading back to the proceeds of the crime and its perpetrators.

Integration
This is the final stage in which the laundered assets from crime are collected, ready for open use.

At this point the funds have all the appearance of legitimacy and do not need be disguised any further.

Omen Muza is a banker and Managing Director of TFC Capital Zimbabwe. He writes in his personal capacity. Feedback: omen.muza@gmail.com

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