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KYC AML Guide: the Clock shows the average reeding time of the blogJuly 11, 2023

Exploring the World’s Biggest Money Laundering Scandals

Money-laundering scandals have shaken the global financial system, exposing the dark side of illicit financial services. Money is the worst discovery of human life. Globally, the estimated amount of money laundered exceeds 2% to 5% of global GDP, or $800 billion to $2 trillion in just one year. These tragedies demonstrate not only the magnitude of the problem but also the need for strict financial controls. This blog delves into some of the world's biggest money laundering scandals, corporate scandals in 2023, and famous money laundering cases demonstrating the enormous impact and consequences of these illegal practices.

M Abd'al Bari

Research Associate

Famous Money Laundering Cases

1 The Panama Papers:

  • The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published the Panama Papers investigation in April 2016.
  • The names of approximately 214,000 offshore companies, as well as thousands of prominent individuals such as politicians, celebrities, and business leaders, were revealed.
  • It refers to 11.5 million leaked encrypted confidential documents
  • The Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca was implicated in the scandal for assisting clients in setting up secretive offshore accounts to evade taxes and launder money.
  • The Panama Papers exposed the scope of global tax evasion and money laundering, with billions of dollars illegally channeled through offshore accounts.
  • The scandal prompted investigations and legal actions in several countries, resulting in the resignation of political leaders and increased scrutiny of offshore tax havens.
  • It exposed regulatory system flaws and emphasized the importance of stronger anti-money laundering measures and international cooperation in combating financial crime.
  • The Panama Papers had a significant impact on public perception, prompting calls for greater transparency and accountability in the global financial system.

2 HSBC Case

It is one of the famous money laundering cases.

  • HSBC Holdings is the largest independent bank in Europe. HSBC paid a $1.9 billion fine in 2012 to prevent drug dealers from stealing nearly a billion dollars from the bank.
  • HSBC provided more than $881 million in money laundering services to various drug cartels, including Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel.
  • Despite lax AML controls, HBUS provides bookkeeping banking services such as money transfers and foreign exchange, which have long been sources of illegal activity.
  • HSBC’s involvement in the case extended to Mexico, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, where it knowingly permitted prohibited transactions to occur.
  • They are not alone: banks like ING, Barclays, and Credit Suisse have already been charged with facilitating transactions in illegal countries like Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Myanmar.
  • The HSBC money laundering case served as a stark reminder of the importance of effective anti-money laundering measures, as well as the consequences of failing to address money laundering risks in the banking industry.

3 Danske Bank

The case is considered to be one of the biggest money laundering scandals of all time.

  • Branches in Estonia generated approximately $236 billion. The main reason appears to be a breakdown in communication between the management of Danske Bank‘s Copenhagen office and the Estonian branch.
  • Furthermore, the bank’s Estonian branch allegedly had thousands of suspicious customers who used the bank’s management flaws to conduct illegal transactions totaling $228 billion between 2007 and 2015.
  • Clients from Russia and other former Soviet states were primarily involved in the money laundering scheme, which used the bank to move funds through offshore companies and complex transactions.
  • The scandal exposed serious flaws in Danske Bank’s anti-money laundering controls, as the bank failed to detect and prevent illegal activities in its branches.
  • In the aftermath of the scandal, the bank’s top executives, including its CEO, resigned, and the reputational damage inflicted on Danske Bank was significant.
  • The Danske Bank money laundering case has sparked a broader debate about the need for increased regulatory oversight and anti-money laundering measures throughout the global banking industry.

4 Wachovia Bank

Wachovia was one of the largest corporate scandal banks in the United States in 2010.

  • From 2004 to 2007, the bank allowed Mexican drug dealers to steal approximately $380 billion. Drug dealers and criminals use US dollars as currency by transferring them across the Mexican border via drug trafficking. The bank was unable to trace the source of these funds and eventually paid the US government up to $110 million in forfeitures.
  • Furthermore, drug dealers have used Wachovia’s financial services to send money back to the US.
  • Martin Woods realized that his employer had contributed to the devastation of Mexico’s drug trade profits.
  • Following reports that Hezbollah was using Wachovia accounts, Woods, who joined Wachovia Bank as a financial advisor in 2005, issued his first serious warning during the 2006 Lebanon war. However, he was convicted for his efforts to suppress the suspicious records, much to his surprise. That same year, “suspicious business practices” involving Mexican exchange companies were discovered.
  • Woods then issued a series of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) demanding that the named individuals be barred from entering Mexico, as well as a series of traveler’s checks.
  • The Mexican military discovered 128 safes worth $100 million filled with 5.7 tonnes of cocaine aboard a newly arrived plane in Ciudad del Carmen in April 2006.
  • The DEA, the IRS, and other officials conducted a 22-month investigation and discovered that the plane’s suppliers were stealing money from Wachovia.
  • Between 2004 and 2007, the investigation revealed that billions of dollars were transferred to Wachovia’s accounts via Mexican exchanges in wire transfers, traveler’s checks, and large cash transfers.
  • Wachovia reached an agreement with US authorities in 2010 and agreed to pay a record-breaking $160 million fine for its role in money laundering activities.

5 PwC Tax Scandal:

It is one of the corporate scandals of 2023.

  • PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) Australian business was embroiled in a tax leaks scandal, resulting in a difficult week for the firm.
  • PwC Australia has been the subject of multiple investigations, including a criminal investigation, as a result of its involvement in the scheme.
  • Because the information was shared with affiliates, the scope of the investigation is expected to extend to the UK, where PwC is headquartered, and the US.
  • The scandal has raised concerns about conflicts of interest in the consulting industry, with critics pointing to the industry’s role in shaping government policies.
  • The use of consulting firms in the public sector is widespread, with PwC Australia holding federal government contracts worth more than A$500 million.
  • Regulators all over the world have expressed concern about accounting firms’ ability to conduct proper audits while also providing lucrative consulting services.
  • The PwC scandal has prompted calls for industry reform, such as the separation of auditing and consulting services.

Also Read: Crowdfunding Fraud & Money Laundering Risks


These are just a few examples of the world’s biggest money-laundering scandals and famous money-laundering cases, but they serve as a reminder of how widespread money laundering is and the need for stronger enforcement. Money laundering has far-reaching consequences, as it undermines trust in the financial system, fueling corruption and organized crime. Governments, regulators, and financial institutions must collaborate to improve anti-money laundering mechanisms, increase transparency, and combat illegal financial activities. We can protect the integrity of the global financial system and society from the devastating problems of money laundering by doing so.


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M Abd'al Bari
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Muhammed Abd'al Bari is a certified Research Professional of KYC/AML Guide. Connect with Muhammed on LinkedIn