Traders urged to study laundering trends

A group of countries, including the United States, suggested that companies involved in international trade be better educated about money-laundering trends and methods.

That was among the recommendations officials from the United States, Aruba, Colombia, Panama and Venezuela offered to combat a complex and sophisticated scheme -- the black-market peso exchange, which is often used to by drug dealers to launder money. U.S. law enforcement officials say this system is responsible for laundering $3 billion to $6 billion a year.

The countries suggested public outreach programs be conducted to educate companies on how the exchange works and to keep them up to date about trends, patterns and suspicious activity.

The exchange allows drug traffickers to transfer their American profits from dollars to pesos without moving cash across any borders and risking discovery. Instead, peso brokers pay the traffickers for the dollars, which remain in the United States and are deposited in bank accounts here by agents of the brokers.

The brokers then use the dollars to buy U.S. goods and smuggle them into Colombia on behalf of importers, who avoid high government tariffs and taxes on foreign currency exchanges. Products are often smuggled into Colombia through Panama, Aruba and Venezuela.

Other suggestions by the group of countries included better screening, registration and regulation of companies involved in trade activities; better collection of trade data; making sure money exchangers report unusual cash transactions; and improved communications among law enforcers, customs officials, tax authorities and banks.

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