BOGOTA, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Colombia's financial crimes unit,
intensifying efforts to catch fraud, has detected some $20
billion in financial operations potentially tied to money
laundering over the last 3-1/2 years, the unit's director said.
The figure is equivalent to more than 6% of Colombia's
annual gross domestic product.
Money laundering occurs when funds earned from illegal
activities like drug trafficking are invested in front
businesses which integrate illicit money into the legitimate
The funds were detected through more than 20,000 suspicious
activity reports flagged each year by the Financial Information
and Analysis Unit (UIAF).
"In the last few years we've hit the accelerator and the
learning curve in terms of interception of illicit funds," UIAF
director Javier Gutierrez told Reuters.
The $20 billion was detected between 2019 and mid-2022, he
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that
2% to 5% of the world's GDP - between $800 billion and $2
trillion - is laundered annually, though by its nature money
laundering is hard to trace.
Laundering can cause inflation and create unfair competition
when front businesses offer products and services at
artificially low prices.
The UIAf has found some 570 channels through which money is
laundered - including fake or inflated invoices, currency
trading, exports and crypto-currencies, Gutierrez said.
Colombia's penal code outlines 66 types of crimes tied to
money laundering including drugs and arms trafficking, customs
fraud and people smuggling.
The Andean country is a top producer of cocaine and home to
rebel groups and crime gangs involved in drug trafficking,
illegal mining and other crimes.
"In importance drug trafficking is the one that generates
the most resources and corruption is second for the harm it does
to public investment and social programs," said Gutierrez.
Fighting money laundering is potentially more effective for
combating crime than arrests, Gutierrez said.
"Being detected matters very little to criminals, it matters
much more to be captured, but what hurts them most is the chance
resources will be taken away," said Gutierrez. "If you bankrupt
them economically it is much harder for them to be resilient."
(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra
Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio)