In 2020, drug traffickers continued to adopt cryptocurrency-related technologies, in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted supply chains of illicit substances.
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted supply chains for psychotropic substances, particularly restricting cross-border shipments between the United States and Mexico, according to the recent report by the US Drug Enforcement Administration's Strategic Intelligence Division (under the US Department of Justice). This led to the fact that buyers in the United States could not pay for the goods received. International drug cartels were looking for ways to get paid in the face of travel restrictions. According to the DEA, drug traffickers and money launderers are increasingly incorporating virtual currency into trade-based money laundering (TBML) activity as the use of these currencies becomes more widely adopted. By purchasing cryptocurrency, money was transferred across the border without the need for couriers to be physically involved in transporting it.
“Although for a number of years virtual currency has been utilized as a payment method to purchase illegal drugs online, it is now becoming more commonly utilized by international money launderers to transfer proceeds across borders on behalf of transnational criminal organizations <...> Increasingly, money laundering organizations are using virtual currency automated teller machines (ATMs) to aid in the movement of illicit bulk currency.”
The DEA report does not provide statistics or specific figures on cryptocurrency-related crimes over the past year, but it has noted an increase in such transactions.
“Technological innovations in the financial sphere have led to an environment where purchasing goods and transferring money is easier and more seamless than ever. Newer technologies, such virtual currency, create new opportunities for commerce to expand, as well as for criminals to more readily launder illicit proceeds.”