Financial watchdogs uncover a minimal proportion of illegal money

Financial watchdogs uncover a minimal proportion of illegal money
© European Union

The financial authorities in Belgium are able to detect only a tiny proportion of the illegal drugs money passing through the country, according to the latest annual report from the body set up to combat money laundering.

The report from the Cell for Financial Information Processing (CIF) has not yet been released, but De Tijd was able to see an advance copy, which reveals that while the flow of money from traffic in cocaine alone is estimated at €30 billion in a year, the CIF was able to send cases worth an estimated €11.5 million through to the courts.

The money laundering unit reported a total of €1.538 billion in suspected transactions last year to the justice system, roughly in line with past years, and the product of 1,065 cases reported to prosecutors.

A wide selection of institutions and professions are obliged by law to report suspicious financial activity, from notaries to banks to Bpost and bureaux de change.

Those bodies together made 25,991 reports in 2019, or 22% fewer than in 2018. The banks, 1ith more than 11,000 reports, were by far the main source of information on suspect financial transactions.

However only slightly more that €11.5 million of that suspect money was connected to the drugs trade, compared to €311 million from serious tax fraud, €299 million from illegal arms and €228 million from social fraud. And the €11.5 million was spread among 127 cases – an average of about €90,500 a case.

Yet the report also estimates the value of all cocaine traffic in 2019 at €30 billion, or ten times as much as the drugs intercepted, which in 2019 included a record 61.8 tonnes of cocaine caught at Antwerp.

One explanation for the massive disconnect between the money in circulation and the dirty money detected could be that drugs money passed via circuits outside of the detection system. Those include virtual currencies, cash transports, the gaming sector, transfers to shell companies and so on.

The fight against money laundering also seems to be losing out when it comes to cases disposed of in court.

Between 2010 and 2019, the report says, 633 cases were concluded with a verdict, and €308 million taken in fines and forfeits. However the amount of money involved in those cases came to a total of €13 billion.

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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