Multifaceted Trade-Based Money Laundering Scheme

AFP photo



Ricardo Swire


Nidal Waked Hatum, a thirty-six year old businessman described by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as “one of the World’s most significant drug money launderers and criminal facilitators” was recently detained. Hatum, who leads the Waked Money Laundering Organization (MLO), was stopped at El Dorado Airport in Bogota by Colombian National Police (NPC). The Spanish-Panamanian-Colombian national was listed on an active US Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) warrant for a money laundering conspiracy.

The entrepreneur confessed to fraudulently receiving bank credit for purchases of non-existent electronic appliances from two companies he owned. A multinational law enforcement team from DEA Miami, Colombia’s NPC, US Federal Bureau of Investigations, Customs & Border Protection (CBP) staged the inter-agency operation. Agents were guided by OFAC’s indictment, which identified six co-conspirators and sixty-eight companies that functioned as spokes in the money laundering wheel. The “trade-based” scheme imported from US$22,000 to US$550,000 worth of drugs money to Panama. Such cash was used to buy items from two companies, Star Textile Manufacturing and Global World Import & Export in Miami.

Purchased commodities were shipped to Colombian retailers who transferred profits back to the senders. Fake invoices supported bogus transactions and revenue was moved, via the detainee’s Vida Panama SA or Zona Libre Company, to designated Panamanian and Miami banks. As of September 2015 Waked MLO was rated as the largest operating in Panama. Caribbean internal security intelligence analysts reflect on the famous Monday May 9, 2016 Panama Papers’ database identification of businesses practicing sophisticated money laundering schemes. Panama was tallied second most incorporator of such companies.

The latest multi-agency probe confirmed Panama’s money laundering notoriety. OFAC’s indictment named P Grupo Wisa SA and Soho Panama SA as “key participants” in the high-worth fraud scam. La Riviera duty-free stores in Latin America, Plaza Milenio SA’s luxury mall and real estate complex in downtown Panama City are included. Balboa Bank & Trust Panama and Strategic Investors Group Inc., or Balboa Bank & Trust’s holding company also singled out. The bank’s more than US$44 million or £30 million was frozen. Balboa Bank & Trust is blacklisted by OFAC for routinely sanitizing internationally generated drugs money.





Ricardo Swire - Tuck Magazine

Ricardo Swire

Ricardo Swire is the Principal Consultant at R-L-H Security Consultants & Business Support Services and writes on a number of important issues.

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