24 May 2013 - Money-laundering is a complex crime to tackle as criminals go out of their way to hide their methods. In today's world, money can be moved instantly between jurisdictions, leaving efficient anti-money-laundering work heavily reliant on sophisticated computer equipment and highly skilled enforcement personnel. In many parts of the world, such crime-fighting assets cannot be taken for granted. In some countries, in particular in the developing world, the challenges may be more fundamental, but the end result is the same: a financial sector vulnerable to abuse by criminals.
While much progress has been made on the legislative front, with most of the world's countries now signed up to relevant United Nations conventions and other key international standards and agreements, the capacity of countries to make proper use of them varies significantly. There is no country that meets all the internationally agreed recommendations for anti-money-laundering efforts and the challenges vary greatly between jurisdictions. Some countries, for example, have an insufficient institutional framework with deficiencies in the regulatory system, financial intelligence unit and/or enforcement mechanisms. Others have more basic needs, such as an electronic population registry, access to fast and reliable internet and communication services, or computer equipment and software needed to keep track of financial movements.
Moreover, many developing countries are vulnerable to money-laundering as a result of their largely cash-based economies and high percentages of people without bank accounts. Large cash payments - including for purposes such as cash smuggling and bribes - are commonplace and accepted as normal. People often rely on informal financial systems, such as hawala, and other alternative remittance systems to transfer money, and these systems are difficult to monitor and regulate. Additionally, mobile banking services are increasingly popular in some developing countries. Such services are often used on unregistered, pay-as-you-go mobile phones, making the identities of the people involved and the nature of transactions very difficult to trace.
UNODC advocates full money-laundering compliance in developed countries and provides assistance to developing countries to strengthen their systems and meet the challenge of tracking money flows. In relation to the latter, UNODC provides governments, law enforcement authorities and financial intelligence units with strategies to counter money-laundering; advises on improved banking and financial policies; assists national financial investigation services and facilitates training and the transfer of expertise between jurisdictions. The ultimate objective of UNODC's work in these areas is to move closer towards a world free of 'safe havens' for illicitly obtained assets.