It is a crime, the crime of handling the proceeds of other crimes. National criminal offence definitions must conform to the United Nations’ Conventions (UNCAC, UNTOC and Narcotics) which all have identical wording to describe money laundering. None of the definitions use the words “money” or “laundering”. Athough the criminal offence is new, the activity is as old as crime itself. The first money launderer was Eve, Adam’s wife, when she took the fruit from the forbidden tree.
Money laundering is described as complex and hard to combat, mainly by people who want to discourage its investigation & prosecution. The keep-it-simple definition is “handling the proceeds of crime”. In the UK the crime of money laundering is defined in the Proceeds of Crime Act, 2002 (sections 327, 328 and 329). This conforms to the international definitions contained in the United Nations Conventions on Narcotics (1988), Transnational Organised Crime (2000) and Corruption (2003).
Any crime will do
The UK has one of the easiest definitions of money laundering, making it integral to all acquisitive crimes including, for example, theft. If I steal a pen (the crime of theft) I acquire the pen with the dishonest intent to permanently deprive the owner of it, I am guilty of theft. I also simultaneously commit money laundering, because I have acquired the proceeds of a crime. The pen is the proceeds, the crime is theft, my acquisition is the act of taking it. This is Section 329 of the Proceeds of Crime Act, 2002.
A simple theft can be money laundering
If I put the pen in my pocket, so that you cannot see it or give it to someone else, I commit a different money laundering offence, Section 327. This section involves doing something with the proceeds of crime like concealing or transferring it. If I involve someone else to arrange for future acquisition or retention that is a different crime again, Section 328.
Importantly the UK has an ‘all crimes’ approach, meaning that there is no threshold of monetary value or of seriousness for the offence to be complete. It also recognises ‘self money laundering’, which is the simple reality that criminals try to hide their ill-gotten gains from the moment that they acquire them. These two aspects of the UK approach are central to effective investigation. This is because, at the beginning of an investigation the seriousness of the offence, or who committed it is, at best uncertain and often unknown. That is what investigators are for.
Follow the money on TV & film
This ‘keep it simple’ approach means that all acquisitive crime investigations are also money laundering investigations. There are huge advantages to this ‘parallel investigation’ approach to investigating both crime and the proceeds of crime.You can put this to the test yourself. The people who make the best films and TV programmes about crime try to get the technical side correct to add to the realism. Next time you watch a show look out for the moment when the money laundering is revealed. It is normally when the investigator finds a financial connection that links a person to the scene of the crime, the victim or another suspect. If you find a good example please contact me.