Crime is resilient and fast adapting to new realities. Organized crime is in the process of establishing an alternative banking system, only tangentially connected to the West's, in the fringes, and by proxy.
This is done by purchasing defunct banks or banking licences in territories with lax regulation, cash economies, corrupt politicians, no tax collection, but reasonable infrastructure. The countries of Eastern Europe - Yugoslavia (Montenegro and Serbia), Macedonia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Albania, to mention a few - are natural targets. In some cases, organized crime is so all-pervasive and local politicians so corrupt that the distinction between criminal and politician is spurious.
Gradually, money laundering rings move their operations to these new, accommodating territories. The laundered funds are used to purchase assets in intentionally botched privatizations, real estate, existing businesses, and to finance trading operations. The wasteland that is Eastern Europe craves private capital and no questions are asked by investor and recipient alike.
The next frontier is cyberspace. Internet banking, Internet gambling, day trading, foreign exchange cyber transactions, e-cash, e-commerce, fictitious invoicing of the launderer's genuine credit cards - hold the promise of the future. Impossible to track and monitor, ex-territorial, totally digital, amenable to identity theft and fake identities - this is the ideal vehicle for money launderers.
This nascent platform is way too small to accommodate the enormous amounts of cash laundered daily - but in ten years time, it may. The problems is likely to be exacerbated by the introduction of smart cards, electronic purses, and payment-enabled mobile phones.
In its "Report on Money Laundering Typologies" (February 2001) the FATF was able to document concrete and suspected abuses of online banking, Internet casinos, and web-based financial services. It is difficult to identify a customer and to get to know it in cyberspace, was the alarming conclusion. It is equally complicated to establish jurisdiction.
Many capable professionals - stockbrokers, lawyers, accountants, traders, insurance brokers, real estate agents, sellers of high value items such as gold, diamonds, and art - are employed or co-opted by money laundering operations. Money launderers are likely to make increased use of global, around the clock, trading in foreign currencies and derivatives. These provide instantaneous transfer of funds and no audit trail. The underlying securities involved are susceptible to market manipulation and fraud. Complex insurance policies (with the "wrong" beneficiaries), and the securitization of receivables, leasing contracts, mortgages, and low grade bonds are already used in money laundering schemes. In general, money laundering goes well with risk arbitraging financial instruments.
Trust-based, globe-spanning, money transfer systems based on authentication codes and generations of commercial relationships cemented in honour and blood - are another wave of the future. The Hawala and Chinese networks in Asia, the Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE) in Latin America, other evolving courier systems in Eastern Europe (mainly in Russia, Ukraine, and Albania) and in Western Europe (mainly in France and Spain).
In conjunction with encrypted e-mail and web anonymizers, these networks are virtually impenetrable. As emigration increases, diasporas established, and transport and telecommunications become ubiquitous, "ethnic banking" along the tradition of the Lombards and the Jews in medieval Europe may become the the preferred venue of money laundering. September 11 may have retarded world civilization in more than one way.