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  • GAO studies effect of Southwest border banks "derisking" due to BSA/AML concerns

    Financial Crimes

    On February 26, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, which describes Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance challenges facing Southwest border banks, examines the impact “derisking” has had on banking services in this region, and evaluates responses by regulators to “derisking” concerns. “Derisking” is defined by GAO as “the practice of banks limiting certain services or ending their relationships with customers to, among other things, avoid perceived regulatory concerns about facilitating money laundering.” According to GAO, because the region has a high volume of cash and cross-border transactions, as well as a large number of foreign accountholders, banks are required to engage in more intensive and frequent monitoring and investigating to comply with BSA/AML requirements. Due to some Southwest border residents and businesses reporting challenges when trying to access banking services in the region, GAO was asked to undertake a review to determine if the access problems were due to “derisking” and branch closures.

    Among other things, the report found that (i) the average number of suspicious activity reports filed in the region was two and a half times the number for high-risk counties outside the region; (ii) 80 percent of banks in the region terminated accounts due to risks related to BSA/AML; (iii) 80 percent limited or did not offer accounts to certain businesses considered high risk for money laundering and terrorist financing because those customers drew heightened BSA/AML regulatory oversight; and (iv) money-laundering risks were a more important driver of branch closures in the region than elsewhere. GAO discovered that BSA/AML regulatory concerns may be a factor in banks’ decisions to engage in “derisking” in the region, and that “the actions taken to address derisking by the federal bank regulators and FinCEN and the retrospective reviews conducted on BSA/AML regulations have not fully considered or addressed these effects.” The account terminations and limitations, along with branch closures in the region, have raised concerns that the closures have “affected key businesses and local economies and . . . economic growth.”

    GAO recommended that FinCEN, FDIC, Federal Reserve Board, and the OCC (the agencies) conduct a comprehensive review of their BSA/AML regulatory framework to assess how banks’ regulatory concerns may be affecting their decisions to provide banking services. It also recommended that the agencies jointly conduct a retrospective review of BSA/AML regulations and their implementation and revise BSA regulations as necessary to “ensure that BSA/AML regulatory objectives are being met in the most efficient and least burdensome way.”

    Financial Crimes GAO Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering FinCEN SARs

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  • Agencies assess $613 million in total penalties against national bank and its parent for BSA/AML deficiencies

    Financial Crimes

    On February 15, a national bank and its parent corporation were assessed $613 million in total penalties by the OCC, DOJ, Federal Reserve, and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) as part of a deferred prosecution agreement over Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) compliance program deficiencies. According to the announcement by the DOJ, the agency’s settlements cover a range of alleged AML deficiencies back to 2009, including an alleged effort not to disclose known Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) deficiencies to the OCC. Additionally, the DOJ cited the bank for failing to timely file SARs related to the banking activity of a customer who used the bank to launder proceeds from a fraudulent payday lending scheme, when the bank was allegedly on notice of the activity (previously covered by InfoBytes here).

    The $613 million in penalties include: a $453 million forfeiture as part of the deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ; a $75 civil money penalty from the OCC; a $15 million civil money penalty from the Federal Reserve; and a $70 million civil money penalty from FinCEN.

    Financial Crimes Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering OCC Federal Reserve FinCEN DOJ

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  • FinCEN proposes measure against Latvian bank for alleged money laundering schemes, blocks U.S. accounts

    Financial Crimes

    On February 13, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a finding and notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act, seeking to prohibit the opening or maintaining of correspondent accounts in the United States for, or on behalf of, a Latvian-based bank. The NPRM is being issued based on findings that the bank has “institutionalized money laundering as a pillar of [its] business practices.” According to the NPRM, the bank’s management (i) “permits the bank and its employees to orchestrate and engage in money laundering schemes”; (ii) “solicits the high-risk shell company activity that enables the bank and its customers to launder funds”; (iii) “maintains inadequate controls over high-risk shell company accounts”; and (iv) “seeks to obstruct enforcement of Latvian anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) rules in order to protect these business practices.” Specifically, Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin asserted that the bank’s failure to implement effective AML/CFT and sanctions policies and procedures has become a conduit for widespread illicit activity, “including activity linked to North Korea’s weapons program and corruption connected to Russia and Ukraine.” The measures set forth under the NPRM are designed to protect the U.S. financial system from money laundering and terrorist financing threats. Comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism International Department of Treasury Federal Register

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  • FinCEN issues advisory updating FATF-identified jurisdictions with AML/CFT deficiencies

    Financial Crimes

    On February 9, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory to financial institutions based on November 3, 2017 updates to the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) list of jurisdictions identified as having “strategic deficiencies” in their anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes. FinCEN urges financial institutions to consider this list when reviewing due diligence obligations and risk-based policies, procedures, and practices. 

    The current jurisdictions (as further described in the Improving Global AML/CFT Compliance: On-going Process) that have AML/CFT deficiencies for which the jurisdictions have developed action plans are: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Vanuatu, and Yemen. Notably, Uganda has been removed from this list for making “significant technical progress in improving its AML/CFT regime and . . . establish[ing] the legal and regulatory framework to meet the commitments in its action plan.” However, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, and Tunisia were added to the list due to the ineffective implementation of their AML/CFT frameworks. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran remain the two jurisdictions subject to countermeasures and enhanced due diligence due to AML/CFT deficiencies.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism

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  • FinCEN issues requests for comments on renewal of BSA currency transaction and suspicious activity reporting requirements

    Financial Crimes

    On February 9, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued two notices and requests for comments in the Federal Register seeking renewals without change of currently approved Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) regulatory requirements for covered financial institutions. The first notice concerns the continuance of currency transaction reporting requirements, and the second notice addresses suspicious activity reporting requirements. Comments must be received by April 10.

    See here for additional BSA InfoBytes coverage.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Bank Secrecy Act SARs Federal Register

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  • $368 million penalty assessed against California branch for BSA/AML deficiencies

    Financial Crimes

    On February 7, the OCC and DOJ announced settlements with a Netherlands-based lender’s California branch, in which the branch pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Government for impeding and obstructing a 2012 OCC examination when it concealed deficiencies in its Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance programs. According to the DOJ’s press release, the branch will pay over $368 million as a result of allowing “hundreds of millions of dollars in untraceable cash, sourced from Mexico and elsewhere, to be deposited into its rural bank branches” without conducting adequate BSA/AML review, and for conspiring with several former executives to hide information from OCC officials during the 2012 examination. Among other things, the plea agreement states that the branch “created and implemented a number of policies and procedures that prevented adequate investigations into suspicious customer activity,” which included (i) creating a “Verified List” of customers whose transactions needed no further review even if there was a change in the customer’s activity from when it was verified; and (ii) instructing BSA/AML staff to “aggressively increase the number of bank accounts on the Verified List.” Further, the branch admitted it failed to both monitor and conduct adequate investigations into these transactions and submit suspicious activity reports to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, as required by the BSA. Additionally, in an effort to conceal deficiencies in its BSA/AML program, the branch demoted or terminated two employees who risked “contradicting” the branch’s findings. Two months before the branch's guilty plea, a former executive entered into a deferred prosecution agreement for his role in the misconduct, and agreed to cooperate with the DOJ's continuing investigation.

    As part of the plea agreement, the OCC announced it had terminated a December 2013 consent order entered into with the branch over its BSA/AML failures and stated, “the OCC has determined that the bank has implemented all of the corrective actions required by the 2013 consent order and has achieved compliance with the requirements set forth in that order.” On February 6, the branch agreed to pay $50 million civil money penalty to the OCC, which will be credited towards the overall amount assessed by the DOJ.

    Financial Crimes OCC DOJ Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering SARs FinCEN Settlement

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  • Senate Banking Committee: The impact of cryptocurrency in AML/BSA enforcement

    Financial Crimes

    On January 17, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a second hearing with witnesses from the Treasury and Justice departments to further address the need to modernize and reform the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) regime. The hearing, entitled “Combating Money Laundering and Other Forms of Illicit Finance: Administration Perspectives on Reforming and Strengthening BSA Enforcement,” follows a January 9 hearing before the same Committee on related issues (see previous InfoBytes coverage here). Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, opened the hearing by stating the need to understand the government’s position on “strengthening enforcement and protecting the integrity of the U.S. financial system in a new technological era,” while also recognizing the challenges technology creates for law enforcement. A primary topic of interest to the Committee was “the rise of cryptocurrencies and their potential to facilitate sanctions evasion and perhaps, other crimes.”

    The first witness, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, Sigal Mandelker (testimony), noted that money laundering related to cryptocurrencies is “an area of high focus” for Treasury, and highlighted actions taken by Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), such as the release of guidance announcing that “virtual currency exchangers and administrators” are subject to regulations under the BSA. Regulated entities, Mandelker stated, are required to file suspicious activity reports (SARs) and are subject to FinCEN and IRS examinations and enforcement actions. Mandelker further commented that Treasury is “aggressively tackling” illicit financing entering the U.S. system and elsewhere, and stressed that other countries face consequences if they fail to have an AML/Combating the Financing of Terrorism regime that meets Treasury standards.

    The second witness, DOJ acting deputy assistant attorney general M. Kendall Day (testimony), informed the Committee of the recent hiring of a digital currency counsel who is responsible for ensuring prosecutors are up-to-date on the latest money-laundering threats in the digital currency field. Day also commented on recent DOJ prosecutions in this space, and emphasized the need for enhanced information sharing for law enforcement, including the benefit of deriving information from SARs.

    Financial Crimes Senate Banking Committee Department of Treasury DOJ Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act Fintech Cryptocurrency Virtual Currency FinCEN SARs Enforcement

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  • FinCEN updates Bank Secrecy Act FAQs

    Financial Crimes

    Recently, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) updated its “Answers to Frequently Asked Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) Questions.” The December update provided the following, among other things: (i) “depository institutions are not required to file a Designation of Exempt Person form . . . with respect to the transfer of currency to or from any of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks” (in accordance with amended 31 CFR 1020.315); (ii) guidelines for filing the Designation of Exempt Person form; and (iii) guidance concerning the types of identifying information financial institutions should obtain when a federal, state or local government official engages in a transaction over a certain amount in an official capacity. FinCEN stated that “the answers are not meant to be comprehensive, apply to all factual situations, or to replace or supersede the BSA regulations.”

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Bank Secrecy Act Department of Treasury Federal Reserve

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  • FinCEN Launches New Exchange to Enhance Information Sharing

    Financial Crimes

    On December 4, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced the release of the “FinCEN Exchange” program, which establishes regular briefings between FinCEN, law enforcement, and financial institutions to share high-priority information regarding potential national security threats and illicit financial transactions. Although private sector participation in the program is voluntary, FinCEN encourages involvement because the briefings may help financial institutions better identify risks and incorporate appropriate information into Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs). In addition, FinCen’s receipt of information will support its efforts to combat financial crimes, including money laundering.

    The CDD Rule became effective on July 11, 2016, and member firms must comply by May 11, 2018. FINRA advises members firms to consult the CDD Rule, along with FinCEN's related FAQs, to ensure AML program compliance.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN SARs Anti-Money Laundering

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  • FinCEN Issues $8 Million Penalty to California Club Card for Willful Violation of Anti-Money Laundering Controls

    Financial Crimes

    On November 17, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced that it had assessed an $8 million civil money penalty against a California card club company for “willfully violating” the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) from 2009 to 2017. According to FinCEN, the company failed to establish and maintain an operational anti-money laundering program and failed to detect and timely report many suspicious transactions. FinCEN asserts that during the eight-year period, the company failed to file any Suspicious Activity Reports regarding loan sharking and other criminal activities being conducted through the company that were the subject of a 2011 state and federal law enforcement raid. Additionally, the company allegedly failed to implement sufficient internal controls to monitor risks associated with gaming practices that allowed customers to co-mingle and pool bets with anonymity.

    The penalty assessment does not reflect consent by the company, and the company may elect to contest the penalty by not paying within the allotted time period.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering Enforcement SARs

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