Unveiling the Trojan horse: the new road to money laundering in a global context


By Prof. Samuel Lartey [email protected]

In the ancient tale of the Trojan War, the Greeks gifted the city of Troy with a large wooden horse, hiding soldiers inside to infiltrate the city’s impenetrable walls. This story is emblematic of modern financial deception, where money laundering acts as the Trojan horse in the global financial system. Understanding the principles of money laundering is crucial for individuals, institutions, and nations to combat this illicit activity effectively.

The Trojan Horse is a tale from the Trojan War, as recounted in Greek mythology and epic literature, particularly in Virgil’s “Aeneid.” Greeks used the strategy of concealing soldiers inside a large wooden horse, which was presented as a gift to the Trojans. Despite warnings, the Trojans brought the horse inside their fortified city. At night, the Greek soldiers emerged from the horse, opened the city gates for their returning army, and Troy was defeated, ending the war.

The term “Trojan Horse” has come to symbolize a strategy of causing the target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or space. It’s widely used metaphorically to describe deceitful tactics that lead to the downfall or compromise of a person, group, or organization. In technology, a “Trojan Horse” or “Trojan” refers to malicious software that misleads users of its true intent, often used to breach security by seeming harmless.

Concept and Evolution:

Money laundering is the process of making large amounts of money generated by criminal activity, such as drug trafficking or terrorist funding, appear to be legal. The new roads to money laundering refer to the innovative and sophisticated methods criminals use to integrate illicit money into the legal economy. The rise of digital currencies has provided a new, less traceable avenue for laundering money through complex online transactions. Use of online marketplaces, gambling sites, and other digital platforms to disguise the origins of illicit funds. Misrepresenting the price or quantity of imports or exports to move money across borders.

These new methods pose significant challenges for law enforcement and regulatory bodies due to their complexity and the global nature of the digital economy. Responses include enhanced monitoring of digital transactions, international cooperation, and the development of new regulations and technologies to detect and prevent money laundering. Understanding these topics requires recognizing the adaptability of strategies, whether in historical warfare or the context of modern financial crimes, showcasing how old concepts can find new expressions in different eras.

The Trojan Horses of Modern Finance

In today’s interconnected world, the mechanisms for laundering money have become increasingly sophisticated, utilizing various ‘Trojan horses’ to evade detection.

  1. Shell Companies and Trusts:

These entities can be used to mask the true ownership of assets, allowing illicit funds to be moved and stored discreetly.

  1. Trade-Based Money Laundering:

Over or under-invoicing trade transactions can move value across borders undetected.

  1. Cryptocurrencies:

Digital currencies can provide anonymity and a global reach, making it easier to move funds across borders without detection.

  1. Banking Secrecy Havens:

Jurisdictions with stringent secrecy laws provide a veil of anonymity, aiding in the concealment of the origins of illicit funds.

In the context of money laundering, the “Trojan horse” metaphor illustrates how illicit funds are concealed within legitimate financial systems. Understanding the demand and supply sides of these practices offers insight into their mechanics and the broader economic implications.

Demand Side: The Need for Money Laundering

  1. Criminal Enterprises:

Organizations engaged in illegal activities (drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms dealing, etc.) generate large amounts of cash that need laundering.

  1. Corruption and Embezzlement:

Politicians, government officials, and corporate executives involved in corruption seek to launder kickbacks or embezzled funds.

  1. Tax Evasion:

Individuals and corporations aiming to hide assets from tax authorities use laundering to disguise the true nature of their wealth.

  1. Terrorist Financing:

Terrorist groups launder funds to obscure the origins and intended uses, ensuring the flow of money for their operations.

  1. Market Manipulation:

Traders and firms involved in illicit financial practices use laundering to obscure the origins of illicit profits from market manipulation schemes.

Supply Side: Providing the Means for Money Laundering

  1. Financial Institutions:

Banks and non-bank financial institutions can unwittingly or complicitly provide the infrastructure for laundering through inadequate oversight or corrupt practices.

  1. Professional Enablers:

Lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors might assist launderers through the creation of complex structures like shell companies or trusts that obscure ownership.

  1. Cryptocurrency Exchanges:

Some digital currency platforms may offer an anonymous or poorly regulated avenue for laundering, particularly those with lax KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti-Money Laundering) policies.

  1. Offshore Financial Centers:

Jurisdictions with strict secrecy laws and low regulatory oversight attract individuals and entities looking to launder money.

  1. Trade-Based Money Laundering:

Companies involved in international trade can manipulate invoices and documentation to launder money, facilitated by the complexity and volume of global trade.

The demand and supply sides of Trojan horse money laundering practices reveal a complex interplay between criminals seeking to legitimize their illicit gains and the systems and services that inadvertently or intentionally facilitate this process. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for developing effective strategies to combat money laundering, protect the integrity of the financial system, and support global economic stability.

 The Global Impact

The implications of money laundering are profound, affecting nations, institutions, and individuals worldwide. It undermines economic stability, distorts markets, fuels corruption, and supports criminal enterprises and terrorism.

To dismantle the Trojan horse of money laundering, concerted, intentional, and conscious global efforts are necessary. This paper has enumerated a few including:

  1. Enhanced Regulatory Frameworks:

Nations must adopt and enforce stringent anti-money laundering (AML) regulations in line with international standards.

  1. International Cooperation:

Cross-border collaboration and information sharing are vital to tracing and intercepting illicit financial flows.

  1. Advanced Technology:

Leveraging technology, including AI and machine learning, can enhance the detection of suspicious activities.

  1. Public Awareness:

Educating individuals and businesses about the risks and indicators of money laundering can foster a culture of compliance and vigilance.


Like the wooden horse used to deceive Troy, money laundering uses deceptive tactics to breach the financial system’s defenses. By understanding and addressing the modern-day Trojan horses used in money laundering, society can better safeguard against the pernicious effects of this illicit activity. It requires a multi-faceted approach, combining regulatory rigor, technological innovation, and global collaboration to combat the sophisticated schemes that threaten the integrity of the global financial system.

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