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  • FinCEN director discusses approach to virtual currency and emerging technology

    Financial Crimes

    On August 9, FinCEN Director Kenneth A. Blanco delivered remarks at the 2018 Chicago-Kent Block (Legal) Tech Conference to discuss, among other things, the agency’s approach to virtual currency and its efforts to protect financial institutions from being exploited for illicit financing purposes as new financial technologies evolve and are adopted. Blanco commented that while innovation provides customers with greater access to financial services, it can also create opportunities for criminals or serve as a vehicle for fraud. Blanco discussed several areas of focus, such as (i) the regulation of virtual currency and initial coin offerings (ICOs), along with coordinated policy development and regulatory approaches done in conjunction with the SEC and CFTC; (ii) examination and supervision efforts designed to “proactively mitigate potential illicit finance risks associated with virtual currency”; (iii) anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regulatory compliance expectations for companies involved in ICOs or virtual currency transmissions; (iv) enforcement actions taken against companies that fail to implement effective programs; (v) the rise and importance of virtual currency suspicious activity report filings which help the agency identify and investigate illicit activity; and (vi) the development of an information sharing virtual currency-focused FinCEN Exchange program. Blanco emphasized that “individuals and entities engaged in the business of accepting and transmitting physical currency or convertible virtual currency from one person to another or to another location are money transmitters subject to the requirements” of the Bank Secrecy Act.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Bank Secrecy Act Virtual Currency Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism SARs SEC CFTC Fintech Initial Coin Offerings

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  • OCC releases recent enforcement actions

    Federal Issues

    On July 20, the OCC released a list of recent enforcement actions taken against national banks, federal savings associations, and individuals currently and formerly affiliated with such entities. The new enforcement actions include cease and desist orders, civil money penalty orders, removal/prohibition orders, and terminations of existing enforcement actions. Two of the more notable actions by the OCC covered in this report are discussed below.

    On May 31, the OCC issued a consent order against an international investment bank’s federal branches located in Stamford, Miami, and New York, which identified alleged deficiencies in the branches’ Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) compliance programs. The alleged deficiencies include failure to adopt and implement adequate BSA/AML compliance programs and failure to file timely Suspicious Activity Reports. Among other things, the consent order requires the branches to (i) develop and implement an ongoing BSA/AML risk assessment program; (ii) adopt an independent audit program to conduct a review of the bank’s BSA/AML compliance program; (iii) submit a written progress report within 30 days after the end of each calendar quarter that details actions undertaken to ensure compliance with the consent order’s provisions; and (iii) ensure each branch has permanent, experienced BSA officers responsible for compliance functions. The bank has neither admitted nor denied the OCC’s findings, and a civil money penalty was not assessed against the branches.

    In addition, on June 18 the OCC issued an order terminating a 2016 consent order against a national bank following the OCC’s determination that the bank had successfully completed the consent order’s requirements for complying with provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

    Federal Issues OCC Enforcement Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering Bank Compliance SARs SCRA

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  • SEC and broker-dealer settle charges for allegedly failing to report suspicious transactions

    Financial Crimes

    On July 9, the SEC announced it had reached a settlement with a broker-dealer for allegedly failing to file suspicious activity reports (SARs), as required by the Bank Secrecy Act. According to the SEC’s complaint, the broker-dealer allegedly “knew, suspected, or had reason to suspect” that at least 47 advisors previously terminated by the broker-dealer had engaged in suspicious transactions. However, the broker-dealer filed SARs related to only 10 of the advisors—3 of which were filed after the SEC brought an enforcement action against the advisors. Suspicious transactions by the advisors involved (i) engaging in suspicious transfers of funds; (ii) engaging in “cherry-picking” patterns; (iii) charging excessive advisory fees; (iv) improperly accessing customer accounts to make trades; and (v) using the broker-dealer’s custodial platform despite registration lapses. The SEC asserted that the broker-dealer’s failure to file SARs for suspicious transactions violated the Securities Exchange Act. While neither admitting nor denying the allegations, the broker-dealer has agreed to the entry of a permanent injunction and will pay a $2.8 million civil penalty.

    Financial Crimes SARs SEC Securities Bank Secrecy Act

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  • OCC releases recent enforcement actions, issues $12.5 million penalty for BSA/AML compliance deficiencies

    Federal Issues

    On June 15, the OCC released a list of recent enforcement actions taken against national banks, federal savings associations, and individuals currently and formerly affiliated with such entities. The new enforcement actions include cease and desist orders, civil money penalty orders, and removal/prohibition orders. The consent order described below was among those in the OCC’s list:

    On April 14, the OCC issued a consent order and $12.5 million civil money penalty order against a New York-branch of an international bank for alleged deficiencies in the branch’s BSA/AML compliance program.  The alleged deficiencies included the failure to file timely Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) as well as deficiencies in the branch’s compliance with Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) requirements. Among other things, the consent order requires the branch to (i) develop and implement an ongoing BSA/AML and OFAC risk assessment program; (ii) adopt an independent audit program to conduct a review of the bank’s BSA/AML compliance program; and (iii) ensure the branch has a permanent and experienced BSA officer. The bank has neither admitted nor denied the OCC’s findings. 

    Federal Issues OCC Enforcement Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering SARs OFAC

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  • FinCEN issues advisory on connection between politically exposed persons and financial facilitators

    Financial Crimes

    On June 12, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory to U.S. financial institutions to increase awareness of the connection between high-level political corruption and human rights abuses. The advisory highlights the use of financial facilitators as a means to gain access to global financial systems for the purpose of moving or hiding illicit proceeds and evading U.S. and global sanctions. Among other things, the advisory, which is designed to assist financial institutions in identifying and reporting suspicious activity, provides typologies used by “politically exposed persons” (PEPs) to access the U.S. financial system and obscure illicit activity. FinCEN also provides several red flags outlining various types of suspected schemes that may be indicators of suspicious activity. The advisory’s regulatory guidance further reminds financial institutions of their risk-based, due diligence obligations, which include (i) identifying legal entities owned or controlled by PEPs (as required by FinCEN’s Customer Due Diligence Rule); (ii) complying with anti-money laundering program obligations; and (iii) filing Suspicious Activity Reports related to illegal activity undertaken by senior foreign political figures.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Sanctions International Anti-Money Laundering SARs

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  • FinCEN and California card club agree to a reduced penalty for AML violations

    Financial Crimes

    On May 3, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and a California card club agreed to a $5 million penalty for Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) violations from 2009 to 2017. In November 2017, FinCEN assessed the company $8 million in civil money penalties but has now agreed to suspend $3 million pending compliance with certain requirements in the consent order. As previously covered by InfoBytes, FinCEN alleges the company failed to file certain Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) regarding loan sharking and other criminal activities being conducted through the company and 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 order requires the company to, among other things, adopt an AML program and hire a qualified independent consultant to review its effectiveness and retain a compliance officer to ensure compliance with BSA requirements.

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

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  • OCC announces enforcement action against Washington-based bank citing BSA/AML compliance deficiencies

    Financial Crimes

    On February 28, the OCC issued a consent order against a Washington-based bank for deficiencies related to its Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) compliance program. The consent order requires the bank to, among other things, (i) maintain a Compliance Committee responsible for ensuring the bank adheres to the consent order’s provisions; (ii) appoint a BSA officer who will ensure compliance with the requirements of the BSA and the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s rules and regulations; (iii) implement an enhanced BSA/AML Risk Assessment Program, including the adoption of written policies to ensure the timely review of BSA/AML suspicious activity alerts and the implementation of an automated suspicious activity monitoring system; (iv) conduct a risk-based “Look-Back” to determine whether suspicious activity was timely identified and reported by the bank; (v) develop policies and procedures for enhanced customer due diligence to monitor information for risk; (vi) implement an independent BSA/AML audit program; and (vii) create a comprehensive training program for appropriate bank personnel. The bank did not admit to any wrongdoing in the consent order.

    Financial Crimes OCC Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering Enforcement OFAC SARs Customer Due Diligence

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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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  • 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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