Money Laundering
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Basic Information

Money Laundering is a criminal enterprise designed to conceal the origins of money acquired from illegal sources so that it appears to be legitimate income … in cant terms, the conversion of black juice into grey or regular "juice".

Where the money in question is in cash, the most common method is to add it to the takings of an already cash rich business with the same owner - part of the reason things like fast food stands and gambling are popular with organised crime. High denomination currency, foreign money or otherwise distinctive cash is much harder to launder, and large volumes may take a long time to process1. Conversely a large, cash paid workforce can also help as the illicit cash can be used for that instead.

Laundering of electronic bank transfers is much harder - especially in the developed world where banking systems keep a disturbingly long lived record of all transactions. Bumping payments through third world banks has the potential to muddy the waters, but can also attract suspicion in its own right and, as above, cash transfers can be counter-productive as well2. The use of alternative, letter of credit banking systems can work, especially amongst immigrant communities3, but again can have problems moving the money back into the mainstream economy.

Most governments dislike money laundering - mainly because it is intimately associated with the black economy, even if it does bring otherwise untaxed revenues within their grasp - and go to great efforts to detect and prevent it. Typically these measures will cause far more annoyance to legitimate businesses than they will to criminals and can provide the state with useful tools for appropriating private funds and property in ways that make it very hard to recover.

In the pre-modern era, converting foreign currency into local currency can be even more fun. Similar techniques can also be used to inject counterfeit money into the economy.

Worth noting that this can also work both ways - diverting money from legitimate channels for "off the books" cash spending also needs to be done carefully (and in general, even the "whitest" of cash spends tends to attract a lot of scrutiny from accountants). Cash paid "ghost contracts" of one kind or another are sometimes helpful.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • PCs involved in crime will have to work out how to do this for themselves. The better they get, the longer their careers are likely to be.
    • Hiring a laundry may be expensive, but may be one of the benefits of belonging to an organised crime firm or thieve's guild. Just make sure the job the money came from was signed off in the first place…
    • The alternative (besides being brought to trial) may be selling hot cash at a substantial discount to someone who can use it.
  • Conversely, PCs who like being on the wrong side of organised crime - possibly including those who are paid to be so - may be tempted to intercept funds in the process of being laundered, either as evidence, or for their own juice funds.
    • Bottlenecks in the laundering process can generate especially tempting piles of cash.
  • For investigative type games, unusual inflows of cash into a business (for example, icecream vans remaining highly profitable during the winter) may be a useful clue.
  • The truly brave (or desperate, or powerful) might also be quite happy moving piles of cash across national boundaries.
  • A ghost business can also be a great way to pay your associates - set up a phantom car valeting business (for example) and inject your dodgy cash into its books as payments for work that never actually happened. You can then hire your various goons as staff and pay them a salary without things looking too dodgy. The downside may be that someone may actually bring them a car to clean - but if they do crap job, repeat business is unlikely.
    • Story potential here as well: the ghost business ends up attracting real business, and something interesting happens:
      • A criminal visits their legit front while under observation or committing a crime (in the example, there might be a corpse in the trunk), and now the increased attention risks blowing the operation or getting the laundry named as a conspirator.
      • The goons commit a crime of opportunity against the customer (such as selling the car to a chop shop), and that risks blowing the operation.
      • The launderer turns out to enjoy the legit business, or make more money legally than illegally, and tries to go straight while the life keeps sucking them back in.
  • As mentioned on its own page, black juice might carry a literal curse… a money laundry in a fantasy setting might (or might not) involve some sort of magical purification to counteract this.
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