Back in the 1980s, an unlikely colony of bright blue, cute, elf-like creatures soared to international success through a hit television animated series that aired on Saturday mornings. Created by the Belgian artist Pierre Culliford, under the pseudonym Peyo, as a magazine comic in 1958, “The Smurfs” would go on to earn billions in merchandising, becoming one of the most successful and longest running cartoons produced by the prominent American studio pair of directors, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
The English term “smurf” comes from the original Dutch translation of the French “Les Schtroumpfs,” a winning concept invented during a meal Peyo was having with a colleague, in which, having suddenly forgotten the word for “salt,” Peyo improvised and asked him to please pass the “schtroumpf” instead. The delighted pair continued joking in the “schtroumpf” language and a new vocabulary evolved, launching the strip long before the age and stage of Trump.
“Smurfs” are big in online and social gaming, with about 100 distinctive, nearly all male characters, bearing names based on adjectives that emphasise certain characteristics, such as “Jokey, Hefty, Brainy, Grouchy, Clumsy, Greedy, Vanity, Handy, Scaredy, Sloppy and Dopey.” The “Flying or Aviator Smurf’s” sole passion is to try and take to the skies, by sticking feathers on his arms, using a hot-air balloon and even devouring a yeast mixture, but all fails until he gets help from “Handy Smurf,” who builds him a big wooden mechanical airplane There are several Sony films, a 3D-animated children’s television series scheduled for 2020 and popular “Smurf” smartphone games specifically targeting young women unfazed by the lone major female persona, “Smurfette.”
The community of “Smurfs” operates as an ideal cooperative, with each individual contributing what they can in exchange for necessities like housing, food and security, all without using any money in daily exchange. Debate continues about whether the creator really intended the white-trouser beings as a magic metaphor for socialism.
It is an ideology seemingly doomed to exist mainly in fantasy, since “Smurfs” have morphed, rather like the beloved musty misnomer, the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and certain constitutional principles, into the contrary, lucrative symbols of powerful corporations and personalities, all blatantly profit-driven and completely capitalist—think a more ruthless Jeff Bezos, and less controversial Karl Marx.
“Finance Smurf” even tries introducing currency to his peers after being fascinated by its use in the human world, but money is abandoned when it creates poverty and corruption among them. Federal Prosecutor, Gregory Baldwin would coin the term “smurfing” for the criminal cash couriers who fanned out across the United States (US) to make numerous deposits below the US$10,000-reporting rule, in an attempt to deliberately avoid the creation of mandatory records and reports. The 1986 statute criminalising such behavior, officially termed “structuring,” therefore became the “anti-smurfing” law, in acknowledgement of Baldwin’s description, derived from the ubiquitous pop culture image of a large group working towards a common goal.
Some three decades on, Baldwin, is a partner with the Miami office of the global law firm, Holland and Knight, practising in complex commercial litigation and white-collar criminal defence, and specialising in anti-money laundering. The leading financial website, “Investopedia” defines a “smurf” as a colloquial term for a money launderer and explains that “structuring” involves several stages, from the “placement” where the criminal is relieved of guarding large amounts of illegally obtained cash, by placing it into the financial system, to “layering” and “integration.”
Packing cash in a suitcase and smuggling it to another country is an example of placement. In the second stage, illicit money is separated from its source by sophisticated layering of financial transactions that obscures the audit trail and breaks the link with the original crime. “Smurfs” may also move funds electronically from one country to another, and then divide the money into investments placed in advanced financial options or overseas markets. The integration stage is where the money is returned to the criminal from what appear to be legitimate sources, the site said.
Just a week ago, one of the lead characters in another sprawling cocaine saga, the apprehended US-based Guyanese version of “Finance Smurf,” Khamraj Lall, 51, was finally convicted in a New Jersey court of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, money laundering, structuring monetary instruments, and conspiracy to commit money laundering and structuring.
The U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced last Friday that Lall was convicted on all eight counts of a superseding indictment following an eight-day trial before District Judge Anne E. Thompson in the Trenton federal court. According to documents filed in the case and the evidence at trial, from April 2011 through November 2014, Lall, a private pilot, smuggled hundreds of kilogrammes of cocaine from Guyana to New Jersey and New York on his aircraft and then laundered the proceeds.
“Lall, who owed a private jet charter business called Exec Jet Club in Gainesville, Florida, used the proceeds of his cocaine empire to purchase jet planes, houses, and cars. He also paid more than US$2 million in cash stuffed in suitcases to a Florida contractor to build an airplane hangar in Guyana.”
A statement from the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey, added that over three and half years, Lall also made or had others make 1,287 cash deposits, totalling approximately US$7.5 million, into over 20 different bank accounts in New Jersey and New York, much of it in US$20 bills. In order to avoid detection and circumvent bank reporting laws, all 1,287 deposits were for amounts less than US$10,000.
In other words, Lall had hauled in so much money from his cocaine trafficking that hiding it became a sure problem, although he did try, be it attracting every “smurf” from relatives and friends, to “fiends” and associates; plus, significant spending, whether select real estate, fancy cars and expensive aircraft.
It all came to a barking halt for the pilot, and later some of his underlings, during a routine re-fuelling stop in Puerto Rico in November 2014, while on his way to Guyana with his elderly father and co-pilot. An alert dog sniffed far more than a hidden suitcase of US$470,000 in cash and another US$150,000 bundle wrapped in plastic bags and a blanket, under an exit-row seat, leading investigators to a well-established money laundering operation.
Yet it remains an “unsolved mystery” worthy of its own television show, how “Kem” was able to smoothly source and fly out bales of cocaine and equal amounts of money on his private jets, sauntering straight through the country’s Cheddi Jagan International Airport, all the way to and from the US undetected. With close links to the previous People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration, Lall transported no less than the then President Donald Ramotar to official overseas engagements. It is an even bigger enigma that to date there has been no local arrest or word of a single “smurf.”
Now facing up to a life sentence in a tough American prison, Lall may still sing about “smurfing” and all the “Smurfs,” including “Party Planner,” “Pretentious,” “Panicky” and “Clueless” in the elusive national cooperative spirit. With a wife, children and extended family to worry about, how much may turn out to be an issue for the pilot, who could end up as “Flighty Smurf,” who finds it difficult making decisions.
Will we ever publicly hear of the “King Smurf,” who develops an unhealthy passion for power and being a leader? His majority rule following elections turns tyrannical and conflict results, which only ends with his predecessor “Papa Smurf’s” return. For sure, “Kem” the pilot will have enough time to reflect and regret that he did not switch to becoming a permanent politician, for then he may have simply “gotten away” with it all.
ID had no television in the 80s, but she has seen the UNICEF Belgian advertisement featuring Smurfs to raise funds for children. She too believes, “It doesn’t matter where you came from. What matters is who you choose to be.”