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Asia-Pacific a money-laundering hotbed: bad actors exploit shell companies, cryptocurrency while AI chases, report says

Shell companies and a growing market for cryptocurrency have become the new hotbeds for money laundering across the Asia-Pacific region, but new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) have emerged as effective tools to counter the crime, according to Forrester Research.

Varied regulatory frameworks and enforcement across Asia-Pacific countries have led to a proliferation of shell companies, allowing criminals to exploit loopholes and conceal illicit funds, the US-based researcher said in a report.

Meanwhile, growing interest around cryptocurrency in Asia – which now makes up 70 per cent of the world’s bitcoin trading volume – as well as the absence of a coherent regulatory framework, have also created opportunities for criminals to “exploit the perceived anonymity and ease of cross-border transactions that cryptocurrencies offer”.

“Money launderers employ techniques like ‘smurfing’, service mixing, offshore transactions, and exchange hopping to obfuscate transaction history and conceal funds’ origins,” Forrester analysts said.

Smurfing is the act of breaking a large sum of money into several smaller parts to avoid detection by authorities.

The report also said that trade-based money laundering is “especially prevalent” in Asia owing to the region’s status as a hub for global commerce; the region’s complex network of suppliers, intermediaries and financial institutions involved in cross-border trade gives criminals ample opportunity to manipulate invoices, overvalue goods and transfer illicit funds under the guise of legitimate trade.

“Cross-border trade involves multiple entities, so banks need to access more external data to analyse risks, adding the challenge of finding reliable external third-party data providers