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UNODC hosts financial investigations techniques course


Vientiane, Lao PDR (20 September 2019)
- Officials from across the Lao criminal justice system have completed a five day training course on basic financial investigation and anti-money laundering techniques. Police, Customs agents, Prosecutors, and representatives from the People's Supreme Court attended the workshop along with officials from several government agencies, including: the Anti-Money Laundering Intelligence Office (AMLIO), Anti-Corruption Authority, the Lao Securities Commission, the Department of Immigration, the Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry of Public Security. Together, participants learned about common money laundering techniques being used by organized criminals through presentations and practical exercises.

Organized crime in Southeast Asia is a profitable activity for criminal enterprises, and operations are primarily motivated by greed. The substantial illicit wealth generated by organized crime supports luxurious lifestyles for leaders and allows kingpins to further expand their operations. Based on UNODC's most recent threat assessment, organized criminal activity generates annual revenues greater than $100 billion USD in Southeast Asia. Whether these proceeds are generated through the illicit drug trade or through human trafficking, criminals must launder their profits to conceal the money's criminal history and exchange it on legitimate markets.

Money laundering is a growing threat in Lao PDR and the region. Limited legal frameworks, poor regulation in the financial system, weak border controls, and reduced investigative capacity allow criminals to launder the proceeds of crime easily. While methods vary, commercial banks, real-estate agencies, cash businesses, and casinos are all at risk of being used to launder the proceeds of crime. Lao authorities have limited capacity to investigate money laundering, and investigations into money laundering activities are rarely pursued following investigations into a predicate offence.

Casinos are of particular concern in Lao PDR, where five casinos have opened in recent years. The Kings Romans Casino in Lao PDR's Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone has attracted particular attention for its links to organized criminal activity. The Golden Triangle region where the borders of Lao PDR, Thailand, and Myanmar converge, has been at the centre of criminal activity in the region for some time, and Kings Romans appears to have become a hub for organized crime in the Golden Triangle. In January 2018, the Unite States' Treasury Department announced sanctions against the casino for allegations of money laundering and criminal activity related to the drug trade, transnational environmental crime, and human trafficking. Lao authorities have made no progress in investigating illicit activity in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, and have been repeatedly restricted from accessing the site.

To support the Lao government's efforts to reduce vulnerability to money laundering activities, UNODC's Global Programme against Money-Laundering has hosted a number of training sessions on financial investigation techniques for individuals working within the Lao criminal justice system. The September 2019 training session was UNODC's most recent workshop, and provided senior government officials and law enforcement officers with a better understanding of the issue. By working with director-level officials, UNODC advisers were able to help identify gaps in investigation techniques and the legal framework presently used in Lao PDR. Addressing money laundering activity is a top priority for the Lao government as it prepares for its mutual evaluation by the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering that will take place next year. The UNODC will continue to support this important work, and will assist the government of Lao PDR in the implementation of whatever recommendations member states of the APG put forward in 2020.