Ozark, a Netflix series to understand money laundering
written by Juan Pablo Calle, On December 18, 2019
Marty Byrde, the central character of the series Ozark, is a financial advisor that launders money for a Mexican cartel. He does so through a complex scheme to conceal illicit resources.
Cabbage, dough, scratch, bucks, coin, mazuma, cash. There are countless words for money, but what is money really? Is it just a unit of value for exchanging goods and services, is it something intangible, is it the root of all evil like the Bible says or is it the source of all happiness as capitalism preaches?
These are some of the questions that go through the mind of financial advisor Marty Byrde, central character of Ozark, Netflix's series on money laundering.
To Byrde, money is neither the source of happiness nor the cause of peace of mind. According to him, "money is, in all its essence, a measure of a man's decisions".
The phrase, which forms part of the initial monologue, defines the masculine objectives of the American dream: to become an exemplary father whatever the cost.
That is exactly what the character does throughout the series: use parental obligations as an excuse to accumulate money by working as a money launderer for a Mexican cartel. Yes, kind of like a Walter White who does not get his hands dirty in the lab.
Through front companies such as a strip club, a hotel and even by building a church, Byrde carries out the process of money laundering by mixing legitimate money with illicit resources.
In the fourth episode of the first season, the central character explains in detail how he does it, describing step by step the stages of money laundering: placement, integration and concealment.
Ozark Guide to money laundering
If you had five million dollars in a briefcase, what would you buy? A yacht, a mansion, a sports car? The truth is that regulators would not let you spend it so easily.
As Byrde knows this, he puts the five million in the bank, but first, he has to get the money even dirtier: by wrinkling it, dragging it, rolling it, making it look old. The bills seem too new to go unnoticed.
Then, he needs a business that will allow him to operate in cash, with manipulable accounts and no credit cards. That is why he chose a strip club as an option, where cash flows naturally between alcohol, music, dancing and naked women.
Once the five million dollares are combined with the cash produced by the business, that money goes from one first world bank to another that is not subject to the control of the regulators of the country of origin. This is usually done using multiple accounts in banks in African countries or remote locations.
At this point, Byrde performs various banking operations to mask the paper trail of the funds. The method used in the series is known as "smurfing": the origin of the money is hidden by diluting the five million dollars in small financial transactions.
Eventually, Byrde also hires services and purchases goods from front companies run by the cartel. This way, he tries to circumvent the authorities and prevent the tracking of the resources.
Finally, after this long process of concealment, Byrde uses a private ATM network to return assets to the United States. These ATMs are located in bars, hotel lobbies and even shopping malls.
Thus, small amounts of money go into a simple bank account. And that's all, the money is clean and available for use by the narcos.