As widely reported, the Spanish police raided last year the Madrid offices of the Chinese state-run Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (“ICBC”), the world’s biggest bank by assets. In the nearly 18 months following that raid and the numerous arrests made at that time, very little information about this money laundering investigation became known publically. That is, until Reuters recently published a lengthy article resulting from its review of “thousands of pages of confidential case submissions” and its “interviews with investigators and former ICBC employees.” The article raises numerous questions regarding the enforcement of European money laundering laws against Chinese banks operating abroad, as well as certain unique political and diplomatic considerations that may exist in those enforcement efforts. Below, we will compare these efforts with similar U.S. enforcement efforts, which are potentially gaining steam. Continue Reading High-Profile Spanish Money Laundering Investigation of Chinese Bank Raises Questions About Future of Similar U.S. Enforcement
In May 2016, Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued its final rule on Customer Due Diligence (CDD) Requirements for Financial Institutions. The Final Rule can be found here; our prior discussion of the Final Rule can be found here.
The new rule requires covered financial institutions to identify and verify the identity of the beneficial owners of all legal entity customers. It also adds CDD as a fifth pillar to the traditional four pillars of an effective anti-money laundering (AML) program. The implementation date of May 11, 2018 is less than a year away. How can you ensure that you’ll be ready? Continue Reading FinCEN’s Beneficial Ownership Rule: A Practical Guide to Being Prepared for Implementation
On July 26, FinCEN, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California (“NDCA USAO”), assessed a $110,003,314 civil money penalty against BTC-e a/k/a Canton Business Corporation (“BTC-e”) for willfully violating the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), and a $12 million penalty against Alexander Vinnik, a Russian national who is one of the alleged operators of BTC-e, for his role in the violations. FinCEN’s press release indicates that this is the first enforcement action it has taken against a foreign-located money services business (“MSB”) doing business in the United States. As we previously have blogged, FinCEN released interpretive guidance in March 2013 stating that an administrator or exchanger of virtual currency is an MSB under the BSA unless a limitation or exemption applies.
In a parallel criminal investigation, Vinnik was arrested and detained in Greece and charged in a 21-count superseding indictment brought by the NDCA USAO and DOJ’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. The superseding indictment alleges that Vinnik and BTC-e operated an unlicensed MSB doing business in the U.S., in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1960, and committed money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956 and 1957, by facilitating virtual currency transactions involving various crimes, including computer hacking, identity theft, tax refund fraud schemes, public corruption, and drug trafficking. The superseding indictment also provides some clues to the fate of the collapsed virtual currency exchange Mt. Gox, once reportedly the largest such exchange in the world. Continue Reading FinCEN Takes First Action Against Foreign-Located MSB—“The Virtual Currency Exchange of Choice for Criminals”—For Willfully Violating U.S. AML Laws
Part Two of a Three-Part Series
In the second part of this series, we explore the practical effects of the FinCEN and DOJ guidance documents on industries attempting to serve marijuana related business (“MRBs”). On June 27, 2017, the Tenth Circuit issued an interesting and divided opinion showing us how difficult it can be to square the prohibitions in the federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) and money laundering statutes with state legislation legalizing certain MRB activity and the seemingly permissive nature of the FinCEN and DOJ guidance documents. Continue Reading Continued and Unexpected Roadblocks to Serving the Marijuana Industry: Fourth Corner Credit Union v. Federal Reserve Bank
Part One of a Three-Part Series
We begin this week with a three-part series on banking and the marijuana industry. States continue to pass medical and recreational use marijuana legislation despite that the fact that the substance remains classified as a Schedule I drug subject to the federal Controlled Substances Act. Thus, the medical and recreational marijuana industries continue to struggle with access to banking and credit, and those who attempt to serve these industries find themselves subject to the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and the criminal money laundering provisions. As we will detail this week, the struggle for financial institutions attempting to service the marijuana industry comes not only from the BSA and AML provisions, but in other forms. We start this week with an overview of the guidance documents issued by the federal government which identify the enforcement priorities and also potential windows for financial institutions to service the marijuana industry. We will follow up with a discussion of a recent federal court decision illustrating the practical difficulties of squaring the prohibitions of the federal drug laws with permissive state laws and the federal guidance documents. We will conclude with an exploration of how federal agencies beyond the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), can further muddy these waters by staking out their own regulatory and enforcement priorities. –Priya Roy Continue Reading Banking and the Marijuana Industry
A Guest Blog by Bruce Zagaris, Esq.
Today we are very pleased to welcome guest blogger Bruce Zagaris, who is a Partner at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe. He is the editor of the International Enforcement Law Reporter; the author of International White Collar Crime: Cases and Materials; and an Adjunct Professor at the Texas A & M University School of Law. Mr. Zagaris also is a member of the Task Force on the Gatekeeper and the Profession of the American Bar Association (“ABA”).
As Mr. Zagaris explains immediately below, growing international trends have led the ABA Task Force to consider a new Model Rule of Professional Conduct that would impose basic “client due diligence” requirements on U.S. lawyers to determine whether their clients are engaging in money laundering or terrorist financing. This development relates directly to issues about which we previously have blogged, including European perceptions of lawyers as potential gatekeepers and of the United States as a haven for money laundering and tax evasion. The possible new Model Rule potentially would represent a significant shift in how the U.S. legal profession regards itself and its relationship to its clients. We hope that you enjoy this discussion by Mr. Zagaris of these important issues. -Peter Hardy
Increasingly, international bodies are calling for higher standards for gatekeepers, known in the parlance of the Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) as “designated non-financial businesses and professions” (“DNFBPs”). DNFBPs include lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, and trust and company service providers (other than trust companies). In particular, in the United States, lawyers play a key role in areas that give rise to potential money laundering: company formation; real estate transactions; business planning; tax planning; wealth management; trust and estate work; and formation and operation of charities, including transnational philanthropy.
In 2006 and again in 2016, the FATF, an intergovernmental body in charge of making and overseeing compliance with international money laundering standards, performed Mutual Evaluation Reports (“MERs”) to assess compliance by the United States with international standards. While the FATF gave the U.S. high marks generally, both MERs found the U.S. “non-compliant” in gatekeepers and entity transparency.
As a result of this international trend, the ABA’s Task Force on the Gatekeeper and the Profession has prepared and discussed a new ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct that would impose basic “client due diligence” requirement on lawyers. We discuss this potential new model rule, and the developments which have led to its consideration, below. Clearly, due diligence for lawyers will increasingly be on the radars of banks, financial institutions, and law firms. Continue Reading AML Due Diligence Standards for U.S. Lawyers
Part III of the Analysis of the Combatting Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Counterfeiting Act of 2017
As we recently blogged, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Diane Feinstein (D-California) introduced on May 25, 2017 a bill, S. 1241, entitled the Combatting Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Counterfeiting Act of 2017. Although most sections of the bill address federal criminal money laundering statutes, the proposed Section 13, relating to prepaid access devices, addresses an area governed by the Department of Treasury and FinCEN.
Section 13 of the bill, which seeks to amend 18 U.S.C. § 5312(a), addresses anti-money laundering reporting requirements regarding “prepaid access devices.” The most immediate impact of these changes would be to require cross-border reporting of funds accessible through products covered by the expanded definition of “prepaid access devices” on the Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments (“CMIR”). Under 31 U.S.C. §5316, a person or her agent or bailee must file a CMIR, otherwise known as FinCEN Form 105, when the person knowingly transports more than $10,000 in “monetary instruments” into or out of the United States.
The proposed amendment has three significant elements:
- It would expand the definition of “financial institution” under the Bank Secrecy Act to include issuers, redeemers and cashiers of “prepaid access devices,” digital currency,” or “any digital exchanger or tumbler of digital currency.”
- The bill would greatly expand the definition of “prepaid access device” in the statute. This expanded language includes a very broad catchall provision, sweeping in any “other instrument, that provides a portal to funds or the value of funds that have been paid in advance and can be retrievable and transferable at some point in the future,” likely including digital currency.
- The bill would define all items covered by the expanded definition of “prepaid access device” as “monetary instruments.”
There is some Congressional history to this proposal. A 2013 Report by the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, titled “The Buck Stops Here: Improving U.S. Anti-money Laundering Practices,” states that Caucus Co-Chairs Feinstein and Grassley and Caucus Member Sheldon Whitehouse had written a letter in early 2011 to Treasury Secretary Geithner “urging the Administration to quickly propose and finalize a rule making stored value subject to cross-border reporting requirements.” FinCEN issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in October 2011 (“2011 NPR”) that would have added “tangible prepaid access devices” (such as stored value cards) to the definition of monetary instruments. The 2011 NPR received significant commentary from industry and a final rule has not been issued. According to the docket folder in Regulations.gov, FinCEN is planning to release a supplemental NPR in November 2017. It is worth noting that the scope of “tangible prepaid access devices” in the 2011 NPR was much narrower than the definition of “prepaid access devices” in the current bill.
Section 13 likely will need significant reworking if the bill advances. The drafters do not appear to understand how reloadable prepaid accounts work and the expanded definitions may not be workable in their current form. Among other issues, reloadable products can evade having funds in the account at the time of a border crossing. The broad references to digital currency also will require review. There is no question that the prepaid industry will have to work hard to educate lawmakers, similar to their ongoing work with the CFPB on the recent prepaid account final rule.
Settlement of FinCEN Action Against Former AML Chief Compliance Officer Serves as Possible Bellwether of Future Cases
This post discusses individual liability in AML/BSA enforcement, which is an area of increasing attention. Indeed, according to public statements by the government, individual liability is the focus of enhanced scrutiny across the enforcement table.
Although the raw number of enforcement actions against individuals in the AML/BSA realm (or even in the broader realm of general financial crime) has not climbed dramatically, even a few enforcement actions can have a profound effect on an industry – and that appears to be occurring in the AML realm. We begin our discussion here with a recent settlement of a high-profile enforcement action against a former AML compliance officer, and how it highlights potential individual liability. Ironically, special scrutiny can apply to the very people specifically tasked with maximizing compliance at a corporation, and such scrutiny can end up pitting them against a company’s management and board. Continue Reading Individual Accountability in AML Cases
We were pleased to contribute an article to the May 2017 issue of Business Crimes Bulletin titled “The Growing Convergence of Cyber-Related Crime and Suspicious Activity Reporting.” Regulators and law enforcement are taking proactive steps to further leverage anti-money laundering monitoring and reporting tools in their battle with cyber attacks and cyber crimes. In-house legal and compliance teams need to be fully versed in the latest Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and bank regulatory guidance on cyber-related crimes and have the right professionals available to assist them with these matters.
Cyber-related crimes increasingly are making headlines across the globe as cyber attacks and other cyber incidents grow in intensity, volume and sophistication against government, political and business targets. The motives of attackers are as varied as their methods, but there is clearly an increasing number of attacks and other illegal activity motivated by financial gain against businesses, including financial institutions. Recent regulatory developments reveal that that illegal cyber activity has become more relevant to the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing as well.
Click here to read the full article.
Reprinted with permission from the May 2017 issue of Business Crimes Bulletin.
© 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
A Guest Blog by Greg Baer, President of The Clearing House
Today we are very pleased to welcome guest blogger Greg Baer, who will address a series of significant issues posed by a detailed paper published by The Clearing House, a banking association and payments company that is owned by the largest commercial banks and dates back to 1853. The paper, titled A New Paradigm: Redesigning the U.S. AML/CFT Framework to Protect National Security and Aid Law Enforcement (The New Paradigm), analyzes the effectiveness of the current AML and Combatting the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) regime, identifies problems with that regime, and proposes a series of reforms to remedy them.
Mr. Baer is the President of The Clearinghouse Association L.L.C. and the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of The Clearing House Payments Company L.L.C. The Clearing House Association represents the interests of The Clearing House’s commercial bank ownership on a diverse range of regulatory and legislative matters. Its affiliate, The Clearing House Payments Company, is the only private-sector ACH and wire operator in the United States, clearing and settling nearly $2 trillion in U.S. dollar payments each day, representing half of all commercial ACH and wire volume. Prior to joining The Clearing House, Mr. Baer was Managing Director and Head of Regulatory Policy at JPMorgan Chase. He previously served as Deputy General Counsel for Corporate Law at Bank of America, and as a partner at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale & Dorr. He also served as Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, after serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary. Finally, Mr. Baer was managing senior counsel at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
The New Paradigm is the product of two closed-door symposia that convened approximately 60 leading experts in the field of AML/CFT. The group included senior former and current officials from law enforcement, national security, bank regulation and domestic policy; leaders of prominent think tanks in the areas of economic policy, development, and national security; consultants and lawyers practicing in the field; FinTech CEOs; and the heads of AML/CFT at multiple major financial institutions. This blog post takes the form of a Q & A session, in which Mr. Baer responds to questions posed by Money Laundering Watch and explains the main positions set forth in The New Paradigm, and also replies to some potential counter-arguments. We hope you enjoy this discussion of these important issues. Continue Reading The New Paradigm: Proposed Reforms of the AML/CFT Regime by The Clearing House