Aspects on identifying and controlling suspect funds and laundering

Author:Fábio Ramazzini Bechara
Position:Attorney General Office, Prosecution Office of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to address the interaction between intelligence activity and criminal investigation, in order to improve State capacity to deal with criminal organizations by controlling and identifying illegal money flows. Design/methodology/approach – The analysis is based on the experience of the Prosecution Office of São Paulo, Brazil, which confirms how... (see full summary)


Preventing and tracking money laundering cases is a challenge across the globe. The aim of such an effort is both to punish criminals and inform the development and strengthening of legal regulations. This work, which will never be finished, leads to more and more sophisticated, stronger and restrictive policies. This issue is extremely important when this flow of money involves criminal organizations, which are structured and managed as legal companies, competing unfairly with others, using crime as a functional and social legitimated mechanism, and often also being protected by official authorities.

Intelligence activity has been used for many years as an effective tool that provides not only knowledge and a more precise diagnostic about a specific situation, but also focuses and optimizes efforts that make State behavior more proactive.

Money laundering is not only a criminal problem, and this can be a significant mistake; focusing on dirty money as simply an issue of criminal responsibility. Money laundering is an interdisciplinary issue that should be addressed widely and from different perspectives, leading to a more strategic treatment that better considers administrative measures and economic consequences. This is the only way to be really efficient.

The State of São Paulo is the richest and more populous State in Brazil, with more than 40 million people and budget of around 100 billion dollars. The prosecution office has almost 2,000 prosecutors, and the special unit that prosecutes organized crime cases has 40 prosecutors. The prosecution office also has an interdisciplinary group of technical assistants, agents and a forensic laboratory that processes information and data in order to produce knowledge about money laundering methods as intelligence.

Such intelligence provides a more strategic perception of the most effective approaches for State authorities when investigating organized crime cases. Each case is planned in order to identify all measures that can be taken, such as criminal charges, civil forfeitures and administrative actions. This approach breaks with the current expectation of a focus on penal punishment, since this “standard” expectation is not sufficient, and cannot lead to such significant result as the newer strategic approach. Intelligence cannot be confused with investigation, and its results are not evidence, although it can be used as a very important source.

The prosecution office of São Paulo has been...

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