Funds were detected through more than 20,000 suspicious activity reports flagged by the South American country's financial crimes unit for over three years, officials say.

Colombia's penal code outlines 66 types of crimes linked to money laundering including drugs and arms trafficking, customs fraud and people smuggling.
Colombia's penal code outlines 66 types of crimes linked to money laundering including drugs and arms trafficking, customs fraud and people smuggling. (AP)

Colombia has detected some $20 billion in financial operations potentially tied to money laundering over the last three and a half years.

The funds were detected through more than 20,000 suspicious activity reports flagged each year by the Financial Information and Analysis Unit (UIAF), officials said on Tuesday.

"In the last few years, we've hit the accelerator and the learning curve in terms of interception of illicit funds," UIAF director Javier Gutierrez told the Reuters news agency.

The $20 billion was detected between 2019 and mid-2022, he said.

The figure is equivalent to more than six percent of Colombia's annual gross domestic product.

The UIAF has found some 570 channels through which money is laundered — including fake or inflated invoices, currency trading, exports and crypto-currencies, Gutierrez said.

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Crimes tied to money laundering

Colombia's penal code outlines 66 types of crimes linked to money laundering including drugs and arms trafficking, customs fraud and people smuggling.

Money laundering occurs when funds earned from illegal activities like drug trafficking are invested in front businesses that integrate illicit money into the legitimate financial system.

The Andean country is a top producer of cocaine and home to rebel groups and criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking, illegal mining and other crimes.

Fighting money laundering is potentially more effective for combating crime than arrests, Gutierrez said.

"Being detected matters very little to criminals, it matters much more to be captured, but what hurts them most is the chance resources will be taken away," said Gutierrez. "If you bankrupt them economically it is much harder for them to be resilient."

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Source: Reuters