Major Money Laundering Countries

Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Every year, U.S. officials from agencies with AML responsibilities assess the money laundering situations in approximately 200 jurisdictions. The review includes an assessment of the significance of financial transactions in the country’s financial sector involving proceeds of serious crime, steps taken or not taken to address financial crime and money laundering, each jurisdiction’s vulnerability to money laundering, the conformance of its laws and policies to international standards, the effectiveness with which the government has acted, and the government’s political will to take needed actions.

The 2015 INCSR identifies money laundering priority jurisdictions and countries using a classification system that consists of three different categories: Jurisdictions of Primary Concern, Jurisdictions of Concern, and Other Jurisdictions Monitored.

“Jurisdictions of Primary Concern” are those that are identified, pursuant to INCSR reporting requirements, as “major money laundering countries.” A major money laundering country is defined by statute as one “whose financial institutions engage in currency transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking.” The complex nature of money laundering transactions today makes it difficult in many cases to distinguish the proceeds of narcotics trafficking from the proceeds of other serious crime. Moreover, financial institutions engaged in transactions that involve significant amounts of proceeds from other serious crimes are vulnerable to narcotics-related money laundering. The category “Jurisdictions of Primary Concern” recognizes this relationship by including all countries and other jurisdictions whose financial institutions engage in transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from all serious crimes or are particularly vulnerable to such activity because of weak or nonexistent supervisory or enforcement regimes or weak political will. Additionally, money laundering activity has moved well beyond traditional banking. As examples, money is laundered through investment funds, insurance, real estate, and high-value goods; thus, looking only at banking transactions may well overlook large-scale money laundering in a jurisdiction. Therefore, the focus in considering whether a country or jurisdiction should be included in this category is on the significance of the amount of proceeds laundered in the entire financial sector, not only on banking transactions or on the AML measures taken. A government (e.g., the United States or the United Kingdom) can have comprehensive AML laws on its books and conduct aggressive AML enforcement efforts but still be classified a “Primary Concern” jurisdiction. In some cases, this classification may simply or largely be a function of the size and/or sophistication of the jurisdiction’s economy. Economies that attract funds globally are vulnerable to money laundering activity because the volume and complexity of the available financial options may make criminals believe they may more easily hide their funds. This is a different approach than that of the Financial Action Task Force’s International Cooperation Review Group exercise, which focuses on a jurisdiction’s compliance with stated criteria regarding its legal and regulatory framework, international cooperation, and resource allocations.

All other countries and jurisdictions evaluated in the INCSR are separated into the two remaining groups, “Jurisdictions of Concern” and “Other Jurisdictions Monitored,” on the basis of several factors that may include: (1) whether transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from serious crimes are conducted in the country’s financial sector; (2) the extent to which the jurisdiction is or remains vulnerable to money laundering, notwithstanding its money laundering countermeasures, if any (an illustrative list of factors that may indicate vulnerability is provided below); (3) the nature and extent of the money laundering situation in each jurisdiction (e.g., whether it involves drugs or other contraband); (4) whether the U.S. government regards the situation as having international ramifications; (5) the situation’s impact on U.S. interests; (6) whether the jurisdiction has taken appropriate legislative actions to address specific problems; (7) whether there is a lack of licensing and oversight of offshore financial centers and businesses; (8) whether the jurisdiction’s laws are being effectively implemented; and (9) where U.S. interests are involved, the degree of cooperation between the foreign government and the United States. Additionally, given concerns about the increasing interrelationship between inadequate money laundering legislation and terrorist financing, terrorist financing is an additional factor considered in making a determination as to whether a country should be considered a “Jurisdiction of Concern” or an “Other Jurisdiction Monitored.” The actual money laundering problem in jurisdictions classified as “Jurisdictions of Concern” is not as acute as in those considered to be of “Primary Concern.” Finally, while jurisdictions in the “Other Jurisdictions Monitored” category do not pose an immediate concern, it is nevertheless important to monitor their money laundering situations because, under certain circumstances, virtually any jurisdiction of any size can develop into a significant money laundering center.

Vulnerability Factors

The current ability of money launderers to penetrate virtually any financial system makes every jurisdiction a potential money laundering center. There is no precise measure of vulnerability for any financial system, and not every vulnerable financial system will, in fact, be host to large volumes of laundered proceeds. A checklist of factors that contribute to making a country or jurisdiction particularly vulnerable to money laundering or other illicit financial activity, however, provides a basic guide. The checklist includes, but is not limited to:

  • Failure to criminalize money laundering for all serious crimes or limiting the offense to narrow predicates.
  • Rigid bank secrecy rules that obstruct law enforcement investigations or that prohibit or inhibit large-value and/or suspicious or unusual transaction reporting by both banks and non-bank financial institutions.
  • Lack of or inadequate know-your-customer requirements to open accounts or conduct financial transactions, including the permitted use of anonymous, nominee, numbered, or trustee accounts.
  • No requirement to disclose the beneficial owner of an account or the true beneficiary of a transaction.
  • Lack of effective monitoring of cross-border currency movements.
  • No reporting requirements for large cash transactions.
  • No requirement to maintain financial records over a specific period of time.
  • No mandatory requirement to report suspicious transactions, or a pattern of inconsistent reporting under a voluntary system, and a lack of uniform guidelines for identifying suspicious transactions.
  • Use of bearer monetary instruments.
  • Well-established non-bank financial systems, especially where regulation, supervision, and monitoring are absent or lax.
  • Patterns of evasion of exchange controls by legitimate businesses.
  • Ease of incorporation, in particular where ownership can be held through nominees or bearer shares, or where off-the-shelf corporations can be acquired.
  • No central reporting unit for receiving, analyzing, and disseminating to the competent authorities information on large-value, suspicious, or unusual financial transactions that might identify possible money laundering activity.
  • Lack of or weak bank regulatory controls, or failure to adopt or adhere to the Basel Committee’s “Core Principles for Effective Banking Supervision,” especially in jurisdictions where the monetary or bank supervisory authority is understaffed, under-skilled, or uncommitted.
  • Well-established offshore financial centers or tax-haven banking systems, especially jurisdictions where such banks and accounts can be readily established with minimal background investigations.
  • Extensive foreign banking operations, especially where there is significant wire transfer activity or multiple branches of foreign banks, or limited audit authority over foreign-owned banks or institutions.
  • Jurisdictions where charitable organizations or money or value transfer systems, because of their unregulated and unsupervised nature, are used as avenues for money laundering or terrorist financing.
  • Limited asset seizure or confiscation authority.
  • Limited narcotics, money laundering, and financial crime enforcement, and lack of trained investigators or regulators.
  • Jurisdictions with free trade zones where there is little government presence or other supervisory authority.
  • Patterns of official corruption or a laissez-faire attitude toward the business and banking communities.
  • Jurisdictions where the U.S. dollar is readily accepted, especially jurisdictions where banks and other financial institutions allow dollar deposits.
  • Well-established access to international bullion trading centers in New York, Istanbul, Zurich, Dubai, and Mumbai.
  • Jurisdictions where there is significant trade in, or export of, gold, diamonds, and other gems.
  • Jurisdictions with large parallel or black market economies.
  • Limited or no ability to share financial information with foreign law enforcement authorities.

Changes in INCSR Priorities for 2014

New jurisdiction added to the “Primary Concern” column: West Bank and Gaza (previously included as part of the Israel report)

In the Country/Jurisdiction Table directly below, “major money laundering countries” that are in the “Jurisdictions of Primary Concern” category are identified for purposes of INCSR statutory reporting requirements. Identification as a “major money laundering country” is based on whether the country or jurisdiction’s financial institutions engage in transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from serious crime. It is not based on an assessment of the country or jurisdiction’s legal framework to combat money laundering; its role in the terrorist financing problem; or the degree of its cooperation in the international fight against money laundering, including terrorist financing. These factors, however, are included among the vulnerability factors when deciding whether to place a country or jurisdiction in the “Jurisdictions of Concern” or “Other Jurisdictions Monitored” category.

Note: Country reports are provided for only those countries and jurisdictions listed in the “Primary Jurisdictions of Concern” category.