16 Sep 2019
While covertly operating within the underworld as a money launderer, I had the occasion to deal with some of the most notorious money launderers in the world. I’ll never forget a particular steamy evening in Panama when I was having dinner with an old friend of Panamanian General Manuel Noriega. This Russian born Director of a Panamanian bank, who ran a conglomerate of global businesses that provided cover for his underworld escapades, was the target of decades of investigations that failed to get inside his criminal enterprise. When he learned through the mafia grapevine that I was then laundering for the leaders of Colombia’s Cali Cartel, we got lucky. He dropped his guard and offered me his resources in hopes of forming a partnership in crime.
As the butter splashed across the plastic bib covering his protruding belly, he cracked the lobster tail hanging over the sides of his plate and casually offered me some advice. “I have contacts that are taking advantage of a wonderful method that has cleaned many millions.” As he explained it, a Swiss bank he named was at the heart of a money laundering machine that had been safely operating for years. The bank arranged the periodic private jet delivery of millions worth of gold bars to a remote airstrip in Colombia. As the aircraft slowly taxied past a line of jeeps, each with teams of traffickers sporting AK-47s to protect the many duffel bags of cash stuffed in each 4 x 4, the doors of the private jet opened. A synchronized exchange was carried out – bars of gold to the traffickers in exchange for the bank’s receipt of a mountain of US currency. The gold bars were sold to the traffickers at 15% below market, a typical laundering fee paid by cartel leaders. After the exchange, the jet flew off to several haven countries in the Americas where the cash was quietly deposited and later transferred to Switzerland. Meanwhile, the traffickers melted down the gold bars and, through front companies, took the gold to Colombia’s Central Bank. The gold was registered as having been locally mined. In exchange for the gold, the Central Bank paid out Colombian pesos – money laundering mission accomplished.
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