Money launderers wash billions through international trade

Miami HeraldMay 11, 2009 

Imported plain cotton pillow cases from France that cost more than $900 apiece and new bulldozers exported to Venezuela that cost $387 each. Such prices seem highly suspect -- and could be examples of someone using international trade to launder money.

Despite strict enforcement of federal anti-money-laundering laws, criminals are constantly finding ways to transform dirty money -- the proceeds of illegal activities -- into clean cash, and one of their most important routes is laundering money via international trade.

Money launderers are moving enormous sums through ports in Florida and other parts of the country by overvaluing or undervaluing exports and imports, said John Zdanowicz, a professor of finance at Florida International University.

Using a statistical program he developed to track money laundering, Zdanowicz analyzes U.S. government trade figures, calculates average prices for commodities and merchandise and searches the data for abnormally priced products.

The pillow cases and bulldozers are among the products he has turned up that seem to indicate trade may have been used to disguise the movement of money. But since the names of importers and exporters don't appear with government trade figures, Zdanowicz doesn't know who is moving the merchandise -- or the money.

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