Colombia’s discount currency exchanges are funneling drug money

I really like the way these illegal/informal exchanges work. This one is on currency exchange in Colombia:

They are in high-end malls, at the international airport, even on the steps of the nation’s central bank. Most display stamped customs documents, making them appear not only benign but official.

Yet hundreds of cut-rate dollar changers across Colombia form part of the scaffolding of the country’s thriving illegal drug and gold trade, some with links to Marxist guerrillas, according to current and former officials. Cocaine traffickers and illegal miners use some of the currency dealers to convert ill-gained dollars into pesos. Customers benefit from a 10-percent discount on the rate banks and investors use.

After decades of violence, Colombia has been turning a corner. It is a safe tourist destination, appears to be on the verge of a historic peace deal with leftist guerrillas, and its most notorious traffickers have been killed or captured. Yet billions of dollars generated by organized crime continue to permeate daily life. The amount of land planted with coca rose 44 percent in 2014, according to the United Nations, meaning Colombia grows more than Peru and Bolivia combined. Illegal gold mining is today as big a business as cocaine, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said in an interview. Dirty money is plentiful.

“These people are receiving money from illegal groups, drug traffickers or criminal mafias,” said a law enforcement official of the currency traders, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They don’t ask for documents and they don’t fill in an exchange rate declaration.”

The rules are so ignored that some dealers ply their trade in front of the main entrance of the central bank. No booth or documents are evident but the dollars are openly sold to passersby. Alberto Boada, secretary of the bank’s board, said the tax authorities, not the bank, should police such activity. He added that currency changers dealing in cash get much of their money from tourists.


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