The floodgates are open...
While exploring themes for the novel I have just finishing writing, Aspen’s Indigo Twilight, I kept coming back to the impact that money laundering has on the world economy. It may not occur to you how much impact this illicit activity has on everyone, but it a malignancy that won't go away. Money laundering is at the root of the black economy that fuels crime organizations, keeps dictators in power and despite the unsavory circumstances, keeps many third-world nations' economies afloat. Laundered money is the source of currency that operates the underbelly of world economics. Like fencers are to jewel thiefs, money launders are to drug lords, a means of legitimizing dirty money.
The launder's activity compounds the initial crime of street drug sales, theft on a grand scale or other activities that generate ill-gotten gains, and is itself an insidious activity that puts the pinch on legitimate businesses and taxpayers around the globe. Laundered money is used to finance terrorism, to fund businesses which compete, unfairly, against legitimate businesses, promotes the ilegal , fund wars and makes large-scale criminal activities possible.
Consider the grandiosity of this process and you may gain a better understanding of the economic impact it has on all of us. According to U.S. Government estimates, approximately $60 billion dollars a year is generated from the sale of illegal drugs in the United States alone. $10 to $30 billion dollars in drug money flows south of the border every year. It's gone, out of our economy.
The physical process of moving money in these quantities is an enormous task unto itself. A dollar bill weighs approximately .983 grams. A million one-dollar bills weighs approximately one metric ton. Even if the shipment is in hundred dollar bills, the highest denomination in U.S. currency, that is a lot of weight. This is so much cash that drug lords are faced with the problem of shipping bulk paper money in airplanes, tractor-trailers, boats and even submarines. Money in these amounts must be legitimized before it is useable, and so un-monitored banks in third-world countries, businesses, charities and other clensing devices have been established to return the money to the legitimate economy.
Of course, illicit money does not only come from the sale of street drugs. Billions of unaccounted dollars have leak out of our government, right under our noses. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has not been audited since 1984. This, in light of the fact that sixteen high-level government HUD officials were convicted of fraud tied to misappropriation of funds during the Reagan administration, including Reagan's Secretary of Interior, James Watt and Philip Winn, Assistant HUD Secretary. In a bit of chicanery that has never been fully explained, President Clinton later pardoned Philip Winn.
By some estimates, as much as $59 billion dollars in HUD money is missing, gone, gobbled up by sharks with connections and presumably laundered and returned to the theives who are hiding in plain sight.
For more on the illicit drug trade and money laundering: PBS Documentary
Words of the day:
Eccedentesiast: A person who smiles falsely, such as a talking head on TV
Gossypiboma: A surgical sponge which is accidentally left inside a patient's body
bête noire: The “Black Beast” – A feared or detested or feared person who should be avoided at all costs.
“The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”
- Tom Clancy