How Does Trade-Based Money Laundering Work?
The most common TBML methods include:
How Can Firms Combat TBML?
International Guidance: The broader the regulatory perspective on TBML, the more effectively individual firms can work to prevent it. International authorities, including the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issue guidance and advice to help financial institutions detect and address TBML. Aimed at national authorities, the FATF Trade-Based Money Laundering Best Practice guidance focuses on raising private-sector awareness of the need for trade finance AML policies and on educating banking supervisors on TBML vulnerabilities in their AML/CFT programs.
The FATF also provides banks and financial institutions with a list of trade finance AML red flags to consider when managing cross-border transactions, these include:
- Significant discrepancies between invoices and the description of goods on official documents.
- Shipments much larger or smaller than the usual traffic of goods handled by a particular importer or exporter.
- Shipments routed through a number of countries or multiple unconnected subsidiaries without good reason.
- Payments methods inconsistent with the level of risk presented by the transaction.
- Shipments of goods typically considered at high risk of involvement in money laundering.
- Shipments of goods into or out of countries deemed to present a high risk of money laundering.
- Shipments that are paid for in cash.
- Shipments that are paid for by third parties with no obvious connection to the transaction.
Trade-Based Money Laundering Examples
Examples of trade-based money laundering activities that should raise red flags include:
- A letter of credit for a high-value cross-border import is revealed to contain anomalies when examined by the routing bank. Further investigation by the bank reveals missing and unrecognized documentation with the import agents. The bank rejects the transaction and returns the drawing documents.
- The first beneficiary of a multi-million dollar letter of credit is to supply medical goods for another country’s bureau of health; however, the second and ultimate beneficiary of the credit issues invoices which do not match those submitted by the first. The first beneficiary is revealed to have substituted invoices marked up by 300% and is additionally revealed to have a connection with the firm acting as the agent to the bureau of health. The bank cancels the transaction adds the parties to their internal watch list.
- Several shell companies purchase electronic goods with funds derived from criminal activities — and then sell the goods to buyers in high-risk countries with minimum due diligence. The proceeds are then directed back to the shell companies. The bank handling the transactions notices a number of red flags, and in particular that the shell companies are registered in countries unrelated to the transactions. The bank adds all parties to its internal watch list.