The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has announced the arrest of Nidal Waked, by the Colombian National police, at Bogota Airport; Waked, alleged to be one of the world's largest money launderers, has been indicted in US District Court in Miami, on money laundering and bank fraud charges.
At the same time, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has designated 68 companies involved in Waked's international money laundering network, which utilizes Panama's Colon Free Trade Zone (Zona Libre) to launder drug proceeds, as well as six of Waked's known associates, including:
(1) Balboa Bank & Trust
(2) Grupo Wisa, SA
(3) Vida Panama (Zona Libre) SA
According to the DEA, the participants engaged in:
(A) False Commercial Invoicing
(B) Bulk Cash Smuggling
(C) Trade-Based Money Laundering
Due to the extensive use, by the Waked organization, of a wide variety of Panamanian businesses to launder narco-cash, readers who are at financial institutions whose clients have any businesses with Panama are urged to review the complete list of OFAC-sanctioned entities and individuals, lest they unwittingly continue to maintain a financial relationship prohibited by law. Please note that some businesses involved, including hotels, shopping malls and newspapers, will be granted limited OFAC licenses. You are urged to view the Resource Center section at http://www.treasury.gov/ and go to "Financial Sanctions."
The effect of this case upon Panama's economy cannot be calculated at this time, but it will most certainly affect Country Risk, as it draws attention to the massive amount of money laundering that exists in the Colon Free Trade Zone, as well as the abject failure of Panamanian law enforcement to control it. The Waked organization has openly conducted its money laundering operations for at least a decade, and has well-established ties to the country's Middle Eastern Organized Crime Syndicate.