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The Sink: Money Laundering, Organized Crime and Canada’s Caribbean

by Jeffrey Robinson

Jeffrey Robinson’s The Sink is a follow-up to his 1996 bestseller The Laundrymen, which looked at the bankers, accountants, and other seemingly upstanding functionaries who aid and abet a multi-trillion-dollar dirty economy that ranks second only to foreign exchange and oil in terms of revenue. Dirty money – whether it’s stolen by African despots from the treasuries of their own countries, or profits of Colombian drug cartels, or mafia “earnings” – needs to be clean in order to escape detection.

That’s where sinks – offshore havens for dirty money with little regulation and lots of privacy – come in. The Swiss banking gnomes used to do it best, but they’ve got stiff competition these days, as Robinson proves with an exhaustive list of mostly island nations – Antigua, Bahamas, Curaçao, Grenada, Dominica, to name just a few – who sell banking secrecy for a modest commission.

Through dozens of examples, Robinson gives readers the nuts and bolts of how swindlers, crooks, and charlatans register legitimate-sounding banks or trust companies through which they funnel their own ill-gotten-gains. The money isn’t taxed – one of the prime reasons offshore banks were created in the first place – and the dirty money can be thrown in with the clean because the shell banks, which consist of little more than an answering machine and a plaque on the wall, have “correspondent” relationships with legitimate other banks around the world, such as the Royal Bank or the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Robinson touches on almost every type of shady activity imaginable, from simple theft to Internet gambling, credit card fraud, pump-and-dump stock market schemes, cigarette smuggling, and the Iran-Contra affair. The wide net of illegal activity covered here detracts from the book’s most compelling revelations – how dirty money is made clean, how legitimate banks become implicated, and what can be done.

Though his tone is occasionally moralizing, Robinson isn’t just railing against the bad guys. He takes the authorities to task for their often lax attitude toward money laundering and fraud. He also points out that money laundering is also an integral part of terrorism funding. The events of Sept. 11 should hopefully remind authorities of the shadowy connections between dirty money, white-collar crime, and terrorist activity.