A recent increase in money laundering activity in Belize will only be stimulated further by the new nonstop service from Panama to Belize that was initiated this week by Copa Airlines. Money laundering Panamanian attorneys have increasingly turned to Belize, to conduct their illicit operations, and there does not appear to have been any meaningful local law enforcement response by Belizean law enforcement agencies or regulators.
There have been multiple cases involving a Belize nexus in 2015. Toronto authorities announced this week two arrests in the $93m pyramid scheme known as Banner Brokers, where the schemers used accounts in Belize to launder the proceeds of crime, employing a bogus Internet advertising company. The United States has accused the Government of Syria of purchasing oil from ISIS, in violation of international sanctions, and a Belize company has been sanctioned for being a major participant. We have seen several other new cases this year, involving Belize banks, and American and Canadian fraudsters and securities traders.
In the past, the country's financial institutions have banked Convicted Colombian billionaire Ponzi schemer David Murcia Guzmán, the insider trading Panamanian government officials in the Financial Pacific-Petaquilla Mining scandal, and the admitted Panama City money launderer, attorney Ismael Gerli.
Given the country's small economy, and lack of significant trade with North America, the chances that any financial transaction between Belize financial institutions, or corporations, involves only criminal activity has increased in recent years, as its popularity for illicit activity has soared. Now, due to increasing the ease of access, for those in Panama's legal profession who regularly engage in the laundering of the proceeds of corruption, and narcotics trafficking, one can only expect it to continue to rise.
For these reasons, compliance officers should increase Country Risk for Belize at this time, after making their own due diligence and inquiry.