Throughout its five seasons, Breaking Bad highlighted the ways narco-trafficker Walter White and his co-conspirators hid the illicit proceeds of their made-for-TV crimes.  Breaking Bad could even be considered a case study of how determined criminals and others hide assets.  For example, at Problem Dog, Season 4, Episode 7, Walter and his wife Skyler faced the dilemma of trying to conceal $7 million in drug profits, by laundering it through their A1A Car Wash.

During Mandala, Season 2, Episode 11, Skyler’s boss Ted Beneke admitted to hiding nearly $1 million in undeclared revenue from the IRS.  In furtherance of this tax fraud, Ted had cooked the books of his company, Beneke Fabricators.  At Caballo Sin Nombre, Season 3, Episode 2,  Walter’s partner Jesse Pinkman seemingly washed $400,000 through the cash purchase of his parent’s home.  In Gliding Over All, Season 5, Episode 8, Skyler disclosed she rented a storage unit to conceal a hoard of cash.  At the end of Crawl Space, Season 4, Episode 11, Walter was also shown next to some illicit cash he had earlier secreted beneath his house:

The post Why Walter White Can’t Just Take His Money to a Swiss Bank meanwhile, created the impression that Walter might not be able to hide his illicit funds in Swiss or other foreign accounts.  According to this particular post, an effort by Walter to hide funds offshore could be hampered by “information sharing that Swiss banks do with the American government.”  Such information sharing could in fact, have enabled DEA Special Agent Hank Schrader to detect the twelve foreign bank accounts, (mentioned at Madrigal, Season 5, Espisode 2), which were opened by Walter’s criminal associate, drug kingpin Gustavo Fring.

In actuality, tax cheats, kleptocrats, high net worth divorcing spouses, terrorist financiers and  narco-traffickers like Walter, are sometimes able to maintain Swiss or other foreign bank accounts under the radar.  They  might try to accomplish this by employing a nominee, (i.e. intermediary), to open their foreign accounts with complete anonymity.  Some companies offer a nominee bank signatory service which can be used to try to circumvent a bank’s customer identification procedures.

Gatekeepers like attorneys and bankers may also help implement concealment schemes involving nominees and / or multiple jurisdictions.  Trade-based money laundering can too facilitate schemes with cross-border elements, as partly suggested by Here’s what ‘Breaking Bad’ gets right, and wrong, about the meth business.  Furthermore, I’d expect a criminal as enterprising as Walter White to at least try to  secretly transfer assets across U.S.-Swiss borders, by using diamonds or the other means outlined by Secreting Assets Without A Border Trace.

Copyright 2013 Fred L. Abrams

  • KC

    Reading this article, in conjunction with “Secreting Assets Without A Border Trace,” seems that the USG can’t even secure illicit funds from a mildly intelligent criminal – how then is FATCA doing anything other than causing a headache for law-abiding Americans living, or earning money, overseas?

    I’m not trying to sound condescending; I’m actually genuinely interested.

  • AML

    I have read the interesting article but the following is wrong as too Swiss banking business. There are Form As created to avoid this concealment issue. On this mandatory form considered as a official title with a sentence upto 5 years of imprisonnement is case of forgery. the identification of the ultimate banenfical owner has to be mentioned. In this case Mr White, would have to be mentioned as well as his date of birth, residence, nationality and a copy certified by notary of his ID or passport. therefore as you correctly mention in case of information exchange with the States, he would be found.

    • Thanks for providing the foregoing analysis. From my perspective, the problem however, is that some beneficial owners are willing to try to circumvent reporting requirements like the Form A. I earlier published a legal memo addressing the kind of issue you have raised. Local Swiss counsel prepared the memo and it is called “Is The Wrongful Indication Of Beneficial Ownership Punishable Under Swiss Law?” This memo and some of Swiss counsel’s comments are available at my post “Following The Money Trail In Zurich”:

      • AML

        Dear sir,

        Thank you for reply I will go through that. Obviously if the bank has no reasons to believe its the wrong BO then a fraud could occur. But by closely reviewing the transactions on the account, a bank compliance should detect the case if he /she does the proper job.
        Kind regards,

        Envoyé par mon BlackBerry Wireless Handheld.

  • Thanks for the article! KC I will definitely have to read “Secreting Assets without a border trace”. It seems like an interesting read much like this article! I also found aml’s comment interesting in which he corrects the article. Thanks for sharing your views!