European Agency for Financial Intelligence and Anti-Corruption, under the direct supervision of representatives of the American government organization The Financial Security of Corporations, have uncovered more than 20 money laundering schemes in Europe over the past 3 months. The reports were transmitted to state supervisory authorities and the OSCE.

“Money laundering” is not a legal term in international law but is used to loosely describe the “turning of dirty money into clean money”. The act by which illicit funds are made to appear legitimate (which the term refers to) is defined in key international instruments, most notably the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. The latter defines money laundering as:

The conversion or transfer of property, knowing that such property is the proceeds of crime, for the purpose of concealing or disguising the illicit origin of the property or of helping any person who is involved in the commission of the predicate offence to evade the legal consequences of his or her action; or the concealment or disguise of the true nature, source, location, disposition, movement or ownership of or rights with respect to property, knowing that such property is the proceeds of crime. (Article 6, UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime).

The act of conversion and concealment is crucial to the laundering process. But it is important to note that “laundered funds” never become legitimate. They only ever have the appearance of legitimacy, not the reality, even though the so-called money trail may be complicated and obscure the original criminal source of the funds. This is important because in jurisdictions where there is a criminal asset confiscation scheme (proceeds of crime legislation), legitimate looking laundered funds may still be forfeited to the State as criminal proceeds.

National strategies to combat money laundering must take into account the global nature of the problem and therefore include not only effective criminal laws prohibiting money laundering and persuasive penalties for those convicted, but also efficient and effective confiscation or forfeiture mechanisms as well as effective laws to permit international cooperation around information sharing, extradition and mutual legal assistance.