In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Money Laundering in International Law

  • Introduction
  • Model Laws
  • European Standards
  • Criminalization
  • Proceeds of Crime and Other Criminal Property
  • Financial Intelligence
  • International Cooperation
  • Terrorist Financing
  • Proliferation Financing
  • Critical Perspectives

International Law Money Laundering in International Law
Simon NM Young
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0233


The international law of money laundering is found in several United Nations (UN) crime suppression treaties, United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, and a body of soft law, some of which arguably has crystallized as customary norms. Beginning with the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Vienna Convention), states agreed to establish anti-money laundering (AML) measures in their domestic law for drug-related offenses. This was followed by AML measures against organized crime and corruption, respectively, in the 2000 UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo Convention), including its protocols and the 2003 UN Convention against Corruption (Merida Convention). The AML measures include the criminalization of money laundering, powers to freeze and confiscate the proceeds of crime, duties of the private sector to generate financial intelligence, the establishment of financial intelligence units (FIUs), and formal legal cooperation arrangements between states, necessary given the transnational dimension of money laundering. While AML originally covered only property derived from crime, its measures were extended to property used to finance or carry out crimes, most notably for terrorist acts and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Though countries concluded a treaty against terrorist financing in 1999, it was not until after the events of 11 September 2001 that anti-terrorism financing norms, as part of the panoply of AML measures, were diffused around the world by UNSC resolutions. International bodies, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), have prepared model laws to assist countries to incorporate AML measures. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), established in 1989 by the G7 industrialized nations, is the most important and influential body in setting detailed international standards on AML. Through replication of its norms and functions by regional bodies, the FATF’s soft law of AML measures has hardened into near universal domestic AML laws, adopted to signify the integrity of a country’s financial systems. European nations extensively adopted AML measures by treaties and directives, sometimes going beyond FATF recommendations. As AML measures have grown in number and global significance, critical literature has grown, questioning their effectiveness, whether their benefits outweigh their costs, and whether they are justified from the standpoint of principles of criminal liability and human rights law. For more criminological literature, readers may wish to consult the Oxford Bibliographies in Criminology article Money Laundering. Research for this work was fully supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (Project No. 17603319). Thanks to Sean Yau and Ting Yin Lau for their research assistance.


Literature on AML is abundant. Works cited include those that examine international aspects of AML law and go beyond the law and practice of a single jurisdiction. Selected major works, introductory overviews, reference works, including bibliographies, comparative and multijurisdictional works follow.

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