Trade-based money laundering (TBML) and contraband – in particular a surge in the global trade in illicit cigarettes – is funding groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Mexico-based Los Zetas criminal syndicate according to a recent report.

‘From Ant Smuggling to an Elephant in the Market’ was commissioned by the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), as part of its efforts to combat the trade of illicit goods.

Regional threat

Of particularly concern is the contraband cigarette trade, which AmCham says threatens economies, institutions and the security of Central American countries.

Consumption of illicit cigarettes is highest in Panama, where contraband cigarettes have a 67% share of the market for non-domestic brands. In El Salvador the share is 31%, while illicit cigarettes account for around 20% of the market in Guatemala and Honduras.

Global threat

The issue is recognised as a problem by the US state department while Emanuele Ottolenghi, member of the Washington-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies maintains that TBML, drug trafficking, contraband and terror financing in Latin America have merged as a single threat.

“Drug cartels, smugglers, counterfeiters, insurgent groups, and terrorist organisations have coalesced…[the] result is a toxic mix that is undermining society itself in Latin America while posing a threat to the US and Europe as well,” he said in response to the report.