Banks stand to advance the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery by reporting suspicious transactions and other financial activity that raise red flags, according to a report on March 15, 2017. Published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a renowned British think tank, the report notes that banks and other financial service providers are increasingly applying their transaction monitoring and data analyses to hold those who exploit people for sex and labor accountable.

Today, nearly 46 million people are living as slaves or indentured servants, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation. As the trafficking of people is heavily dependent upon the movement of money, the misuse of banks and intermediaries are a key component of keeping the industry afloat. In particular, these institutions not only process payments and serve as the final stop for illicit proceeds, but also act as a conduit for financing the trafficking supply chain itself. For example, money services businesses are exploited to pay transporters, prepaid cards are used to move funds across borders, and individual bank accounts are opened to funnel profits.

Some financial institutions, aware of their misuse, are teaming with regulators and law enforcement alike to seek out ways to stem the tide. In fact, some institutions have looked beyond their standard controls to implement techniques specifically tailored to detect human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Project STAMP – created to promote the enforcement of the BSA and the money laundering statutes – aims to shut down human trafficking organizations by identifying and seizing assets and proceeds derived or used in support thereof. Similarly, FinCEN has published guidance to financial institutions that, inter alia, describes a number of unique red flags, such as atypical remittance patterns and frequent payments to online escort services for “advertising.”

As RUSI’s report makes clear, preexisting AML/CFT controls present a potentially highly effective means of identifying and providing evidence to hold accountable those who provide and solicit human trafficking.  Given the industry’s heavy dependence on financial institutions, together with these institutions’ preexisting AML/CFT programs and vast amounts of financial data on hand, banks and intermediaries alike are in a unique position to make a meaningful impact.

Employers increasingly face the difficult scenario of employees who misappropriate company data in the pursuit of whistleblower claims alleging misconduct by the employer. Such cases can present a complex mix of regulatory, cybersecurity, and employment issues. These issues were front and center in a recent whistleblower case pitting a bank against its former internal auditor, who engaged in computer-facilitated misappropriation of the bank’s confidential information allegedly to support whistleblower conduct.Whistle

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California recently declined to summarily adjudicate whether the employee’s confidentiality agreement precluded any whistleblower affirmative defense based on the employee’s alleged violation of computer fraud, contract, and tort laws. The whistleblower laws in question included the Bank Secrecy Act, Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, and the California Labor Code.

In Erhart v. Bofi Holding, plaintiff Charles Matthew Erhart filed a whistleblower complaint against his employer, Bank of the Internet (BofI), alleging BofI retaliated against him for reporting unlawful conduct to the government. BofI, in turn, filed a complaint, alleging that Erhart breached his employee confidentiality agreement by misappropriating confidential data relating to his employer and its clients and disseminating that data to the government, family members, and the national press.

Erhart illustrates the complex and practical problems faced by employers dealing with employees who engage in conduct that would otherwise constitute computer fraud, intellectual property theft, breaches of employment-related agreements and policies, and related tort claims under the mantle of “whistleblower.” A key issue in the case was whether Erhart would be entitled to pursue his retaliation claims before a jury or would be precluded from doing so as a matter of law given his computer-facilitated theft of confidential information. Continue Reading Bank Whistleblower Suits Highlight Limits of Employee Confidentiality Agreements

The Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) has continued its efforts to promote improvements in Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering compliance with the release in January 2017 of a new BSA/AML Self-Assessment Tool for banks. The optional tool is intended to help state-chartered banks enhance their risk assessment process.

The tool, which is provided in Microsoft Excel format, includes a standard methodology for a risk and control self-assessment (RCSA): determination of inherent risks, assessment of the strength of “risk mitigation/controls” and a residual risk rating. The tool is helpful as far as it goes, which is providing a general methodology and identifying common inherent risk areas for banks. The tool does not provide guidance on what constitutes “low,” “moderate” or “high” inherent risks for each category, nor does it provide a list of expected controls or guidance regarding how to rate the strength of controls. The identification and rating of controls is the more challenging part of conducting an RCSA.

State-chartered banks should consider how they might be able to leverage this tool to enhance their current risk assessment process. Given the critical role of risk assessments in building a robust and sustainable BSA/AML compliance program, this tool can help some banks and other companies supervised by state regulators raise the level of their risk assessment. Banks and others will still have to do so some hard thinking as they build out a meaningful RCSA, but the framework provided by the CSBS should prove helpful to many institutions.

In part two of our review of the 2016 developments in Anti-Money Laundering (AML), the Bank Secrecy Act, (BSA), the criminal money laundering statutes, forfeiture, and related issues, we discuss four additional key topics:

You can read more about these topics areas in the blogs that follow.  Click here to read the full article 2016 Year in Review: Money Laundering (Part Two).  Click here if you missed Part One of our 2016 year in review.

Big Stock Photo_805445On August 30, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and four U.S. federal banking regulators sought to correct a problem—at least in part one of their own creation—by issuing a “Joint Fact Sheet on Foreign Correspondent Banking” to clarify enforcement priorities regarding AML/BSA and countering the financing of terrorism (CFT) regimes. The Fact Sheet highlighted the importance of maintaining correspondent banking relationships with foreign financial institutions and the value of the free flow of monies within and across global economies.

Continue Reading 2016 Year End Review: Banking Regulators Try to Ease Concerns Over Aggressive AML/BSA Enforcement

The federal courts continued in 2016 to produce a stream of cases pertaining to money laundering. We focus on three below because they involve analysis of basic issues that frequently arise in money laundering litigation.

Justitia, a monument in Frankfurt, Germany

The first case tests the money laundering statute’s reach in prosecution of an alleged international fraud perpetrated primarily outside of the United States—an increasingly common fact pattern as cross-border cases proliferate and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutes more conduct occurring largely overseas. The other two cases involve defense victories that focus on critical issues of mental state: the question of specific intent under the BSA, and the question, under the money laundering statutes, of knowledge by a third party that a transaction involved proceeds of another person’s crime. The issue of third-party knowledge is often crucial in prosecutions of professionals. Continue Reading 2016 Year End Review: Money Laundering Opinions of Note

2016 was a busy year for developments in Anti-Money Laundering (AML), the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), the criminal money laundering statutes, forfeiture, and related issues. In part one of our year-in-review, we discuss six key topics:

  • The Panama Papers and its spotlight on the United States as a potential money laundering haven

You can read more about these topics areas in the blogs that follow. Click here to read the full article 2016 Year in Review: Money Laundering (Part One).

FinCEN assessed two significant AML-related civil money penalties in 2016 against a bank and credit union. First, FinCEN and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency announced a combined $4 million civil money penalty against Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust Company for allegedly willfully violating the AML requirements of the BSA. According to FinCEN, Gibraltar’s AML program deficiencies ultimately caused the bank to fail to timely file at least 120 SARs involving nearly $558 million in transactions from 2009 to 2013. These deficiencies also unreasonably delayed Gibraltar’s SAR reporting on accounts related to a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme led by Florida attorney Scott Rothstein.

Second, FinCEN assessed a $500,000 civil money penalty against Bethex Federal Credit Union for alleged AML violations. Bethex was a federally chartered, low-income designated, community development credit union. In December 2015, the National Credit Union Administration liquidated Bethex, determining that it was insolvent with no prospect of returning to viable operations. According to FinCEN, Bethex failed to detect and report suspicious activity in a timely manner to FinCEN and did not file any SARs from 2008 to 2011. In 2013, due to a mandated review of prior transactions, Bethex late-filed 28 SARs. The majority of the suspicious activity involved high-volume, high-dollar transfers outside of Bethex’s expected customer base by Money Services Businesses allegedly capable of exploiting Bethex’s AML weaknesses. Most of those SARs were allegedly inadequate and contained short, vague narratives encompassing a broad summary of multiple and unrelated instances of suspicious activity.

Pursuant to Section 311 of the of the USA Patriot Act, FinCEN is authorized to designate foreign financial institutions as being “of primary money laundering concern” and to take any of five “special measures” against institutions so designated. FinCEN can impose the most severe, fifth special measure—allowing it to prohibit or restrict domestic financial institutions from opening or maintaining correspondent accounts for designated foreign financial institutions—only by issuing a regulation under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Ongoing litigation surrounding a Section 311 designation implicates the important question of how much FinCEN must explain itself under the APA, and the extent to which FinCEN must provide objective comparative benchmarks—such as the practices of other financial institutions—when it concludes that an institution has engaged in an unacceptably high degree of suspicious transactions.

On July 22, 2014, FinCEN issued a Notice of Finding designating FBME Bank Ltd., a Tanzanian- chartered bank operating primarily out of Cyprus, as an institution of primary money laundering concern based on its alleged involvement in money laundering and other illicit activity. FinCEN later promulgated a final rule imposing the special measure. Before the rule took effect, FBME brought suit against FinCEN seeking an order declaring the final rule unlawful and permanently enjoining its enforcement. FBME alleged, inter alia, that FinCEN violated the APA by failing to give FBME sufficient notice of the rule’s factual and legal basis and had acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to properly consider alternative measures against FBME.

Continue Reading 2016 Year in Review: District of Columbia District Court Again Stays Section 311 Action Against FBME Bank