Million Dollar Ghost Buildings: Dirty Money Flowing Through Luxury Real Estate Markets
45 Real Estate Law Journal 476 (2017)
25 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2020
Date Written: April 7, 2017
This Article analyzes this money laundering loophole in the real estate sector, named “the darkest corner of the real estate market: all-cash purchases made by shell companies that often shield purchasers’ identities.” Because all-cash purchases allow buyers to avoid bank financing, and in turn, the need to provide identification to the banks as part of the banks’ anti-money laundering procedures, the real estate transaction coupled with limited liability laws in the U.S. provide secrecy and opportunity for money launderers. Charles Intriago, the president of the Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists, highlights the problem as “The regulation of real estate transactions for financial crime and money laundering is worse than Swiss cheese for all the holes it’s got.” The federal government has recently taken initial steps to combat the issue, devoting resources to decrease money laundering in the real estate industry, including the issuance of temporary regulations targeting certain U.S. cities, as well as a 10-agent unit to investigate money laundering, with real estate as a focal point. This Article examines these initiatives and argues for a proper balancing between the need to combat money laundering in the real estate sector and effectively close the loophole with the need to maintain efficiency in real estate sales transactions and a reasonable expectation of privacy by property owners.
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