The Government of Colombia (GOC) is a regional leader in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. The GOC has a forceful anti-money laundering/counter-terrorist financing (AML/CFT) regime; however, the laundering of money from Colombia‘s illicit cocaine and heroin trade continues to penetrate its economy and affect its financial institutions. Laundered funds also are derived from commercial smuggling for tax and import duty evasion; kidnapping; arms trafficking; and terrorism connected to violent, illegally-armed groups and guerrilla organizations, including U.S. Government-designated terrorist organizations.
Both drug and money laundering organizations use a variety of methods to repatriate their illicit proceeds to Colombia. These methods include the Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE), bulk cash smuggling, wire transfers, remittances, smuggled merchandise (contraband) and more recent methods, such as through the securities markets (both U.S. and Colombian), casinos, electronic currency and prepaid debit cards as well as illegal mining. Criminal elements have used the banking sector, and Colombian money brokers, primarily concentrated in Bogota, but also in Medellin and Cali, are additional entities that facilitate money laundering activities. The trade of counterfeit items in violation of intellectual property rights is an ever increasing method to launder illicit proceeds. Casinos, free trade zones (FTZs) and the postal money order market in Colombia present opportunities for criminals to take advantage of inadequate regulation and transparency.
Money laundering also has occurred via trade and the non-bank financial system, especially transactions that support the informal or underground economy. Trade-based money laundering by Colombian organizations with connections to Mexico, China, Ecuador, Peru and Panama has grown exponentially in recent years. In the BMPE, or trade-based money laundering scheme, goods from abroad (China has replaced the United States) are bought with drug dollars. Many of the goods are either smuggled into Colombia or brought directly into Colombia‘s customs warehouses, thus avoiding various taxes, tariffs and legal customs duties. In other trade-based money laundering schemes, goods are over-or-under invoiced to transfer value. According to people who have worked for years in the BMPE industry, evasion of the normal customs charges is frequently facilitated through the corruption of Colombian oversight authorities by the drug and money laundering groups.
Official corruption has also aided money laundering and terrorist financing in geographic areas controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Although corruption of government officials remains a problem, President Juan Manuel Santos has taken a hard line on corruption and has demonstrated that he is serious about punishing corrupt officials at the highest level. Since Santos entered office, four former ministers, three former security directors of the Administrative Department, and other government officials have been dismissed from office, taken to court, or jailed.
In 2005, Colombia‘s Congress passed a comprehensive FTZ modernization law that opens investment to international companies, allows one-company or stand-alone FTZs, and permits the designation of pre-existing plants as FTZs. As of September 2011, there are 91 FTZs in Colombia. Companies within FTZs enjoy a series of benefits such as a preferential corporate income tax rate and exemption from customs duties and value-added taxes on imported materials. The Ministry of Commerce administers requests for establishing FTZs, but the government does not participate in their operation. The DIAN (Colombia‘s Tax and Customs Authority), regulates activities and materials in FTZs, and there are identification requirements for companies and individuals who enter or work in the FTZs. The Santos Administration is revising the FTZ and tax exemption scheme in order to limit their use in the near future.
KNOW-YOUR-CUSTOMER (KYC) RULES:
Enhanced due diligence procedures for PEPs:
A PEP is an abbreviation for Politically Exposed Person, a term that describes a person who has been entrusted with a prominent public function, or an individual who is closely related to such a person. The terms PEP, Politically Exposed Person and Senior Foreign Political Figure are often used interchangeably
- Foreign PEP: NO
- Domestic PEP: NO
Colombia – KYC covered entities
The following is a list of Know Your Customer entities covered by Colombian Law:
- Stock exchanges and brokers
- Mutual funds
- Investment funds
- Export and import intermediaries
- Credit unions
- Wire remitters
- Money exchange houses
- Public agencies
- Lottery operators
- Car dealers
- Foreign currency traders
Colombia – Suspicious Transaction Reporting (STR) Requirements:
Number of STRs received and time frame: 4,904 January through August 2011
Number of CTRs received and time frame: 98,076 January through August 2011
The following is a list of STR covered entities covered by Colombian Law:
- Decurities broker/dealers
- Trust companies
- Pension funds
- Savings and credit cooperatives
- Depository and lending institutions
- Lotteries and casinos
- Vehicle dealers
- Currency dealers
- International gold traders
MONEY LAUNDERING CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS/CONVICTIONS:
Prosecutions: 115 in 2010
Convictions: 95 in 2010
ENFORCEMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION ISSUES AND COMMENTS:
The Government of Colombia continues to make progress in the development of its financial intelligence unit, regulatory framework and interagency cooperation within the government. However, referrals from the Colombian UIAF (Financial Intelligence Unit) to the public ministry for ML/TF cases substantially decreased in 2011 and therefore prosecutions have decreased as well. Placing greater focus and priority on money laundering investigations, including increasing resources and training, will be necessary to ensure continued and improved progress. The GOC should take steps to foster better interagency cooperation, including coordination between the UIAF, Colombia‘s financial intelligence unit; National Police; Colombia‘s Trade Transparency Unit; and the tax and customs authority in order to combat the growth in contraband trade to launder illicit drug proceeds. Congestion in the court system, procedural impediments, and corruption remain problems that need to be addressed.
Colombian law lists specific predicate crimes upon which it bases money laundering violations. The included crimes generally involve illegal armed groups and criminal syndicates and their related activities.
The Colombian legal system has evolved with the introduction of the adversarial oral system. Related to this, the Prosecutor General‘s Office (Fiscalia), has undergone a transformation that has resulted in the loss of significant institutional knowledge and professional ability. This has been due, in large part, to a court decision requiring staffing changes whereby many experienced prosecutors were let go and new hires replaced them. The office is in the process of reconstructing its capabilities, but its effectiveness has been affected.
The Colombian Superintendency of Companies (SuperSociedades) has been working on new anti-money laundering regulations and know-your-customer regulations for the private sector that should be announced by the end of 2011.
While the Colombian financial system has banking controls and government regulatory processes in place, it is reported that drug and money laundering groups have influenced high level bank officials in order to circumvent both established anti-money laundering controls and government regulations.
Colombian law is unclear on the government‘s authority to block assets of individuals and entities on the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee‘s consolidated list. Banks are able to close accounts, but not to seize assets. Colombian law should be clarified to spell out the government‘s authority to block assets of individuals and entities on the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee‘s consolidated list.
The GOC should put in place streamlined procedures for the liquidation and sale of seized assets under state management and should revise procedures to permit expedited forfeiture of seized assets. A five to 15 year time frame for forfeiture opens opportunities for waste, fraud and abuse while limiting the deterrent effect that could result from rapid asset forfeiture. Colombian prosecutors could take steps to not only seize the physical assets (real property) of narcotics traffickers but also seize their bank accounts in Colombia. This element is frequently not a part of regular Colombian asset seizure operations. In addition, the GOC should increase the number of judges that oversee asset forfeiture and money laundering cases to expedite the judicial process.
The GOC works extensively with U.S. law enforcement agencies to identify, target and prosecute groups and individuals engaged in financial and drug crimes. The GOC should explore steps to foster increased cooperation between the UIAF and the U.S. Treasury Department‘s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as case exchanges substantially decreased in 2011.