The Supreme Court granted certiorari on April 3 to decide whether Jordan-based Arab Bank may be liable for claims including allegations that its New YorkDetail view of the United States Supreme Court branch processed transactions for known terrorists. While the central issue before the Court will be the scope of the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) – namely whether it permits corporate liability for violations of international law – Jesner v. Arab Bank also illustrates how alleged AML/BSA failures can lead to yet another avenue for secondary legal liability for financial institutions, as we previously have noted in other contexts. Depending on the outcome of the Court’s opinion in Jesner, such U.S. exposures may extend to foreign financial institutions even when the alleged conduct occurs primarily abroad. Continue Reading Weighing Corporate Liability under the Alien Tort Statute: What it Means for AML/CFT Controls

 

Neon sign depicting money transfer.

On January 19, 2017, the Western Union Company (“Western Union” or the “Company”) entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (“DPA”) with the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), in which Western Union admitted to willful failures to maintain an effective AML program as well as aiding and abetting of wire fraud schemes.  Western Union agreed to a $586 million monetary penalty which will resolve criminal and civil allegations brought by the DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission against the Company, as well as a related Assessment of Civil Money Penalty by FinCEN against a subsidiary of Western Union.  However, Western Union now faces additional costs and litigation for its admittedly insufficient AML program in the form of shareholder suits brought in federal court following the announcement of this sizeable settlement.  Shareholder derivative suits based on alleged AML failures are becoming increasingly common, and this recent action fits squarely into the apparent trend. Continue Reading Investor Suits Follow in the Wake of Western Union Settlement of Money Laundering and Fraud Claims

The Western Union Company (“Western Union”) entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (“DPA”) on January 19th with the Department of Justice, based on alleged willful failures to maintain an effective AML program and the aiding and abetting of wire fraud.  The DPA involved a combined $586 million monetary penalty and also involved related civil enforcement actions by the Federal Trade Commission and FinCEN.  The agreement has been well-publicized and its details will not be repeated here; very generally, the DPA rests on allegations involving conduct stretching from 2004 through 2012 and an overall failure by Western Union to detect and prevent a kaleidoscope of illicit behavior by customers, from structured transactions to an international consumer fraud scheme to potential drug distribution.  To be sure, this is a significant agreement – but it echoes the same general sort of facts and allegations which have become almost standard in large AML enforcement actions. However, the Western Union action contains at least one interesting wrinkle. Continue Reading The Western Union DPA and the Need to Investigate One’s Own

House and cashThe field of forfeiture saw significant action in 2016. The IRS offered to return forfeited funds used in structuring, but Congress still may clip its ability to forfeit such funds. Meanwhile, DOJ renewed a controversial program that incentivizes local law enforcement to aggressively pursue forfeiture. It filed a major forfeiture action which reminds law firms of their own need to vet the source of funds flowing into firm bank accounts. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that “clean” funds cannot be restrained pretrial when a defendant needs those funds for his criminal defense, even if the government wants to restrain the money in order to pay for forfeiture or restitution if the defendant is convicted. Continue Reading 2016 Year in Review: Forfeiture

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).

The New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) emerged in 2016 as a leader in AML enforcement by issuing new and detailed AML regulations with the unique requirement of an individual certification of compliance.

On June 30, 2016, the NYDFS finalized a new regulation setting forth rigorous standards for monitoring and filtering programs to monitor transactions for potential AML violations and block transactions prohibited by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The regulation, which became effective on January 1, 2017, applies to all banks, trust companies, private bankers, savings banks, and savings and loan associations chartered under the New York Banking Law (NYBL); branches and agencies of foreign banking corporations licensed under the NYBL to conduct banking operations in New York; and check cashers and money transmitters licensed under the NYBL (collectively, the Regulated Institutions). The NYDFS regulation is instructive to all financial institutions as a benchmark for future standards potentially to be issued by other states and/or federal regulators.

Continue Reading 2016 Year in Review: NYDFS Finalizes Broad AML Regulations

Capitalizing on its new AML regulations and perhaps attempting to seize the mantle of leading AML enforcement, the NYDFS announced several high-dollar value enforcement actions in 2016, all against foreign banks. For instance, on December 15, 2016, the NYDFS filed a consent order requiring Intesa Sanpaolo, S.p.A. to pay a $235 million civil monetary fine and extend the term of engagement with a NYDFS-appointed consultant for violations of the New York AML regulations.

Continue Reading 2016 Year in Review: NYDFS Fines Intesa Sanpaolo $325 Million for Alleged Repeated AML Violations

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

Because the gaming industry has been known to attract some bad actors who attempt to use its financial services to conceal or transfer illicit wealth, AML compliance remains a key concern in this growing business sector.

Three significant 2016 enforcement actions emphasized that the gaming industry is particularly relevant to FinCEN’s focus on the importance of cultivating a culture of robust AML/BSA compliance within financial institutions. These enforcement actions also suggest that some segments of the gaming industry are still in the process of attaining a fully mature AML compliance culture.

Continue Reading 2016 Year in Review: FinCEN Enforcement Actions in Gaming Focus on Culture of Compliance