One of my AML-related news searches threw up (I may regret using that term) an interesting story recently: two men were arrested at Medellin airport in Colombia for attempting to smuggle US$80,000 in cash – which they had swallowed rolled up in capsules. History does not record how the money was recovered. This savoury tale started me thinking about cash smuggling, which many people mistakenly think is a crime of the past – but far from it. In fact, as with so many crimes, the criminals have simply taken advantage of new technology to become even more efficient.
Cash destined for smuggling across international borders is usually vacuum-packed in plastic to make it less bulky. If a vehicle is being used as the hiding place and method of transport, cash can be hidden all over it. Modern cash smugglers will equip their vehicles with electronic trap door compartments, with the driver not even knowing the code. Drivers and routes will be varied, so as not to raise suspicion or create a pattern. There may be decoy vehicles driving nearby, ready to deflect police attention. And the more sophisticated cash smuggling gangs will use fancy communications systems to track their own vehicles and monitor general traffic flow, noting any patterns of vehicles being stopped and searched along the border crossing and so directing their drivers to select specific lanes.
But I am delighted to see that we are tackling this increased sophistication with an old-fashioned weapon: the labrador. Yes, man’s best friend is proving very adept at sniffing out cash – even when hidden in shoes, underwear and cigarettes. And do read the final paragraph of this short article on cash sniffer dogs in Italy – how clever! Who knew that you could teach dogs to obey AML regulations?
Very interesting to be reminded of the degree to which criminals will go to avoid detection, with the cash smuggling example also being a lot easier to understand than some examples of money laundering. A range of sophisticated checks and controls might sound great on paper but can be quickly diluted if they are too prescriptive or predictable.
If the cash smugglers happen to decide on a new career, I can definitely see a profitable commercial use for some of their smuggling methods. The queue tracker is a great example, I’d love it if someone could direct me to the fastest moving queue in supermarkets etc (as, like most people, I always seem to pick the wrong one !!).
You’re right: we often concentrate on the more complicated layering and integration stages of laundering, when there is still plenty of activity at the “basic” cash placement stage.
And like you I would pay a premium for a “queue detection” system – and one that alerts me if the person in front of me in the supermarket either is related to the cashier and so very chatty, or has somehow chosen lots of items without price-tags.
Best wishes from Susan