A human trafficking operation based in Brazil allegedly made extensive use of trade-based money laundering (TBML) to filter millions of US dollars into the legitimate economy.

A couple based in the US state of Florida who now face charges in relation to the case have been accused of using several local businesses to conceal illicit transactions by making them appear as legitimate trade deals.

Miami connections

The couple were accused in a Miami court of being the primary money launderers for Vantuir De Souza, the alleged kingpin of the organisation who is under house arrest in Brazil pending human smuggling charges.

De Souza is also accused of organising a human smuggling vessel that was lost at sea in November 2016, leaving at least 19 people missing and presumed dead.

TBML operations

Most of the money paid to the traffickers, who charged up to US$25,000 to smuggle one person, was allegedly entrusted to the couple, who integrated the illicit funds in the US economy through several businesses, including Maxdu Properties, Get Trade Enterprises, Alaska Incorporated and Auto Exchange USA.

The couple is accused of laundering US$3.6 million in 2015, US$4.5 million in 2016 and $170,000 in 2017 “by way of seemingly innocuous payments for goods and services in a further attempt to layer and conceal the source of the illicit funds.”

The human smuggling group’s activities were uncovered after the establishment of Operation: Rota Caribe, a task force formed by the US Department of Homeland Security to target human smugglers.