The Biggest Money Laundering Scandals

Money laundering is a major concern for businesses and financial institutions worldwide, and even the biggest companies struggle to stop it from happening. To illustrate the damage caused by this criminal activity, Credas Technologies, the leading anti-money laundering checks provider, has compiled some of the biggest laundering cases in history to show that every business needs to be vigilant to avoid the severe punishments that come as a result.

Wachovia Bank fined $160m 

In 2010, Wachovia Bank, now part of Wells Fargo, was one of the biggest banks in the US when authorities discovered it had enabled Mexican cartels to launder an estimated $390 billion between 20042007. As a result, the bank was fined $160 million.

Standard Chartered Bank fined $1.1bn

When Standard Chartered Bank was found to have failed to implement sufficient anti-money laundering (AML) practices and thus enabled $265 billion to be laundered by criminal groups from various global nations, authorities issued fines totalling an estimated $1.1 billion.

Danske Bank fined $1.4bn

Between 2007-15, it’s alleged that weak AML controls at Danske’s Estonia branch enabled thousands of suspicious customers to launder around $228 billion. The bank was suspended from operating in Estonia, and a number of its executives were criminally charged. Authorities are still working out how much the bank should be fined, but it’s estimated to be around $1.4 billion.

Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) liquidated 

Between the mid-80s and mid-90s, BCCI was found to have enabled money laundering activity to the tune of $23 billion. Investigators say the bank was explicitly formed to circumvent regulatory supervision, using shell companies, secrecy havens, kickbacks, and even bribery to avoid the suspicion of inspectors. The bank quickly liquidated, owing more than $10 billion to creditors.

HSBC fined $1.9bn

HSBC was fined $1.9 billion in 2012 for insufficient AML measures, which enabled around $8 billion to be laundered over seven years. It was also found that the bank provided services to terrorist organisations and allowed transactions involving blacklisted counties like Iran and North Korea.

Commerzbank fined $50m

In 2020, the London branch of Commerzbank was fined $50 million, one of the biggest fines in UK history, for ignoring multiple warnings from regulators and failing to implement adequate AML measures between 2016–2017, resulting in $347 million being laundered.

Westpac Bank fined AU$1.3bn

Between 2013–2019, Westpac failed to adhere to the necessary AML and anti-terrorism measures and did not correctly report more than 19 million international money transfers to the regulator. This enabled more than AU$11 billion to be laundered, for which the bank was fined AU$1.3 billion.

Goldman Sachs made $600 million in profits

In Malaysia, Goldman Sachs was involved in the notorious decade-long 1MBD scandal, involving bribery, laundering, and gross misuse of customer funds which brought in $600 million profit for the bank. As a result, it was fined $2.9 billion by the US, $3.9 billion by Malaysia, and a further $350 million by Hong Kong.

Tim Barnett, CEO of Credas Technologies, says: ‘Money laundering is a major issue on a global scale, and while these organisations did not necessarily knowingly allow themselves to be abused by launderers, this doesn’t absolve them from their responsibilities or the consequences.’

‘The examples presented here are some of the world’s biggest known cases, but don’t be fooled; criminal organisations target companies of all shapes and sizes to wash their ill-gotten gains. If they see a potential laundering opportunity, they will take it. Even your family-run business could foul of such activity, so it’s essential to have adequate AML measures, including proper ID checks.’

‘This will make it much harder for criminals to take advantage of you and protect you against fines in those rare cases when they still manage to abuse your company.’