Whirlpool Learns About Laundering

Would you have guessed that Whirlpool has been drawn into money laundering?

February 17, 2000

Would you have guessed that Whirlpool has been drawn into money laundering?

Whirlpool is not one of the first names that comes to mind when contemplating the sordid world of money laundering. No, when it comes to this specialty of the cleaning business, most people would come up with the names of drug cartels and rogue banks. Nevertheless, one of the most recent casualties in the fifteen-year U.S. “war” against drugs is the Michigan-based manufacturer of refrigerators, ovens — and, yes, washing machines.

In the good old days, drug merchants could simply wire their money from account to account, and ultimately stash it away in secretive Swiss banks. But, with Switzerland recently coughing up $180 million of drug money from one of Colombia’s biggest cartels, money launderers can no longer depend on the secrecy of these banks to protect them.

As an alternative, some Latin American drug lords have taken to laundering their money by purchasing expensive goods from abroad. Generally, these items have been luxury goods such as cars, airplanes, jewelry, yachts. But, apparently, people get a bit suspicious when Jaguars and diamond rings arrive by the boat load at Colombian ports.

So, ever wary of alerting the authorities with purchases of all-too ostentatious goods, money launderers have started buying up other, decidedly not-so-showy items — namely, household appliances.

That’s precisely where Whirlpool and dozens of other U.S. manufacturers enter the picture. Colombian authorities, eager to get their arms around this latest flow of illegal funds, now require Whirlpool to register every new washing machine it sells to the country.

This, of course, comes on top of the U.S. government’s requirement that exporters report their overseas shipments to the Customs Service. It is too early to tell whether either of these laws will provide a great impediment to Colombia’s drug lords.

But one group clearly will benefit — the Colombian bureaucracy. Already, we can imagine some eager young bureaucrat, looking to make a name for himself in Colombia’s Office of Washing Machine Monitoring.