Brokers targeted in drug money laundering blitz

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The Independent Online
NEW YORK - The US Justice Department is seeking court orders to seize dollars 10m worth of customer accounts at some of Wall Street's largest brokerages, claiming the accounts are being used to launder drug money, writes Larry Black.

Accounts held at Merrill Lynch, Dean Witter, Paine Webber and Prudential Securities are named in the order, filed under anti-racketeering laws, officials confirmed.

But the brokerage firms insisted they had not been approached by any law enforcement agency, no customer accounts had been seized, and they knew nothing about a broader money-laundering investigation by customs and tax authorities. Merrill Lynch said it had a long history of collaborating with the Drug Enforcement Agency in fighting money- laundering.

The two Treasury Department agencies are conducting an inquiry, code-named El Dorado, that has found drug money launderers channelling their illegal profits into brokerage accounts rather than commercial banks.

The money in question - dollars 100bn a year, according to one study - enters the US from Latin America as electronic funds transfers, avoiding the restrictions that apply to movements of cash.