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Money Laundering


Money laundering is the process of making illegally-gotten money appear legal, often by disguising the origins of the money. This is usually accomplished through a series of complex transactions that make it difficult to trace the money back to its original illegal source. The goal is to make it seem as if the money originated from a legitimate source.


The phonetic transcription of ‘Money Laundering’ in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is: /ˈmʌni ˈlɔːndərɪŋ/

Key Takeaways

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  1. Money laundering is the process of making large amounts of money generated by criminal activity, such as drug trafficking or illegal gambling, appear to have come from a legitimate source.
  2. It involves three steps: placement, layering and integration. Placement refers to depositing illegally acquired money into a bank. Layering refers to obscuring the sources through complex transactions and bookkeeping trickery. Integration involves merging the laundered money back into the legitimate economy.
  3. The prevention of money laundering is a major focus for regulatory authorities worldwide. Banks and other financial institutions are required to implement measures to detect and prevent money laundering activities.



Money laundering is a critical term in the business/finance sector as it refers to the illegal process of making large amounts of money generated by criminal activity appear to have come from a legitimate source. It’s typically a three-step process that includes placement, layering, and integration. It’s important because it’s a financial crime that funds serious crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and others. Governments, financial institutions, and businesses across the world emphasize on preventing and identifying such activities because, besides shaking the fundamentals of the economic system, it also jeopardizes the integrity of financial institutions, can lead to loss of control over the economy, and can negatively affect a nation’s reputation. Therefore, understanding money laundering is not only critical to prevent business-related crimes, but it’s also vital to maintain a healthy and legitimate economic environment.


Money laundering, in its most basic form, is the process of making illicitly-gained proceeds (dirty money) appear legal, a process called ‘cleaning’. The primary purpose of money laundering is to allow individuals or entities that are making their cash through illegal means to appear as though their income is derived from legitimate sources. This way, the money launderers avoid attracting attention from law enforcement and regulatory entities and can enjoy their profits without undue risk of exposure and potential legal repercussions.Money that has been acquired illicitly can be difficult to spend or invest freely because large transactions are typically monitored by bodies like banks, financial institutions, and governments. The process of laundering allows the money to get mixed with legally-acquired money which then can be freely used for various purposes – from personal spending to funding further illegal activities, without arousing much suspicion. Therefore, money laundering is often a critical operation for the functioning of organized crime, such as drug trafficking, smuggling, fraud, etc., as it provides these entities an avenue to utilize their illegal gains with minimal risk.


1. Zhenli Ye Gon Case (2007): Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican businessman was accused of laundering money for the Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. In March 2007, Mexican police confiscated $205 million in cash from one of his homes, marking it one of the largest drug cash seizures in history. He allegedly made his money from selling precursor chemicals used to make methamphetamine.2. Danske Bank Case (2018): Danske Bank, the largest bank in Denmark and a prominent European financial institution, became embroiled in a massive money laundering scandal. An estimated €200 billion of suspicious transactions flowed through its Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015. The money was reportedly from various corrupt regimes and parties, including Russia and Azerbaijan, thereby demonstrating how banks could potentially be exploited for money laundering purposes.3. Panama Papers (2016): The Panama Papers involved the leakage of approximately 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, exposing a vast network of offshore companies used to hide wealth and evade taxes. It came to light that a number of these offshore shell companies were used for illicit purposes, including money laundering, bribery, and evading sanctions. Prominent figures implicated in the scandal spanned the globe including politicians, celebrities, and business leaders.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is money laundering?

Money laundering is the illegal process of making large amounts of money generated by a criminal activity, such as drugs trafficking or illegal gambling, appear to have come from a legitimate source.

How does money laundering work?

Money laundering typically involves three steps: placement, layering, and integration. Placement refers to the process of introducing the illicit money into the financial system. Layering is the process of creating complex networks of transactions to disguise the money’s origination. Integration involves merging the laundered money back into the legitimate economy.

Why is money laundering illegal?

Money laundering is illegal because it allows criminals to transform illicitly gained proceeds into money that appears legitimate, which can then be used for further criminal activities. It can also destabilize economies and contribute to government corruption.

How can money laundering be detected or prevented?

Money Laundering can be detected and prevented through rigorous checks by financial institutions, monitoring of suspicious activities and transactions, compliance with anti-money laundering laws, and whistleblower systems.

What are the consequences if a business is caught laundering money?

If a business is caught laundering money, it can face severe penalties including huge fines, damage to its reputation, loss of business, and potential criminal charges leading to jail time for individuals involved.

What is the role of banks in preventing money laundering?

Banks play a crucial role in preventing money laundering. They are required by law to have systems in place to detect and report suspicious activity. This includes knowing their customers, understanding their normal and expected transactions, and reporting anything that falls outside of those patterns.

What are Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations?

AML regulations are legal controls that require financial institutions and other regulated entities to prevent, detect, and report money laundering activities. They aim to halt the practice of making illegally-gained income appear legal.

Related Finance Terms

  • Black Money
  • Asset Forfeiture
  • Offshore Banking
  • Shell Companies
  • Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

Sources for More Information

  • FBI – The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s official website section dedicated to Money Laundering
  • Investopedia – A comprehensive resource for all finance-related terms, including Money Laundering.
  • IMF – A report on money laundering from the International Monetary Fund.
  • FinCEN – The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s overview on Money Laundering.

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