U.K. paper details Wachovia drug money laundering

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On occasion, I’ve heard some people say that marijuana will never be legalized in America because it would hurt the banks that launder drug money. I didn’t think about it much until last week, when a British newspaper, The Observer, ran a long, well-researched article detailing how Wachovia laundered billions of dollars — in fact, hundreds of billions — from Mexico’s brutal drug gangs. Oh, you didn’t hear about the article? I don’t understand, since every other media outlet in Charlotte jumped all over the story ... OK, just kidding.

The British article tells a sordid tale of massive, deliberate malfeasance by Wachovia, which was, according to the story, at the center of one of the world's biggest money-laundering operations. The story should be particularly sordid for Charlotteans who remember Wachovia (and before that, First Union) as “The Green Bank,” which was usually portrayed by Charlotte media as your big ol’ friendly hometown bank, just dying to help us all out.

A fascinating part of the article is about the actions of Martin Woods, from Liverpool, who, as a senior anti-money laundering officer for Wachovia in London, began sending increasingly urgent, then frantic, notes to his superiors in Charlotte as early as 2006, telling them about drug money being laundered at Wachovia since about 2003. Woods’ warnings were generally met with a “Will you please shut up?” reaction from Wachovia, particularly at its Miami offices. Anyone with an interest in Charlotte's financial institutions, and what has  happened to them over the past decade, can learn a lot from the story from U.K.'s Observer. Here are two telling quotes from the article:

Woods had a police officer's eye and a police officer's instincts – not those of a banker. And this influenced not only his methods, but his mentality. "I think that a lot of things matter more than money – and that marks you out in a culture which appears to prevail in many of the banks in the world," he says.

"For the time period of 1 May 2004 through 31 May 2007, Wachovia processed at least $$373.6 billion in CDCs, $4.7 billion in bulk cash" – a total of more than $378.3 billion.”

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