Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations
Section Content

Upcoming Events


Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • SEC Reaches $3.5 Million Settlement With Broker-Dealer Over Failure to File Suspicious Activity Reports


    On November 13, the SEC announced it has reached a settlement in an administrative proceeding against a broker-dealer firm for allegedly willful violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act, including the firm’s failure to file, or timely file, at least 50 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) with the Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN) from approximately March 2012 through June 2013. As the SEC Order notes, Bank Secrecy Act regulations require a broker-dealer to file a SAR if it knows, suspects or has reason to suspect that a transaction of a certain minimum or aggregated amount involved funds derived from illegal activity or if the transaction was conducted to disguise funds derived from illegal activities. Other factors requiring a broker-dealer to file a SAR include the absence of any business or apparent lawful purpose for the transaction or if the transaction is to facilitate criminal activity.

    When deciding whether to accept the firm’s settlement offer, the SEC considered voluntary remedial efforts undertaken by the firm, including the fact that the firm retained a third-party anti-money laundering (AML) compliance company to conduct a review of some of the firm’s SAR investigations. Under the terms of the settlement, the firm voluntarily agreed to, among other things, conduct a review of its AML policies and procedures for the identification, evaluation and reporting of suspicious activity related to firm accounts; and provide additional training to staff responsible for conducting investigations and filing SARs. Additionally, the firm was assessed a civil money penalty of $3.5 million.

    Securities Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering SARs Enforcement FinCEN

    Share page with AddThis
  • FinCEN Announces Final Rule Restricting North Korea’s Access to U.S. Financial System; Issues Advisory Regarding North Korean Strategies

    Financial Crimes

    On November 2, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a final rule (Rule) under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT ACT, which prohibits U.S. financial institutions from processing transactions for foreign correspondent accounts involving a Chinese bank (Bank) that was suspected of facilitating illicit North Korean financial activity and laundering funds to finance North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. U.S. financial institutions are also instructed to apply enhanced due diligence to foreign correspondent accounts to prevent them from being used to process transactions involving the Bank. The Rule is effective 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

    In tandem with the issuance of the Rule, FinCEN issued an advisory (FIN-2017-A008) to warn U.S. financial institutions about strategies used by North Korean enterprises as a means to gain access to international financial systems, including (i) the use of a network of global financial representatives; (ii) trade-based payment schemes; (iii) front and shell companies; (iv) surge activity cycles; and (v) financial institutions that operate in areas bordering North Korea. The advisory’s regulatory guidance is designed to assist financial institutions in identifying and reporting suspicious activity by North Korea and its financial institutions. The guidance follows a September 26 announcement by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control that imposed additional sanctions on North Korean banks and individuals connected to global North Korean financial networks. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Sanctions Anti-Money Laundering Federal Register

    Share page with AddThis
  • FinCEN Assesses Penalties Against Texas Bank for AML Violations

    Financial Crimes

    On November 1, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced that it had assessed a $2 million civil money penalty against a Texas bank for “willfully violating” the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). According to FinCEN, the bank failed to comply with the specific due diligence requirements for correspondent banking relationships as required by section 312 of the USA PATRIOT ACT. In particular, FinCEN found that the bank failed to ask appropriate due diligence questions in connection with the foreign bank account relationship and did not verify the accuracy of responses to questions it did pose. FinCEN further found that the bank did not appropriately establish specific customer risk profiles and assign proper risk ratings, resulting in a failure to identify, review, and escalate potential anti-money laundering (AML) violations.

    In 2015, the bank previously resolved alleged BSA/AML deficiencies identified by the OCC and agreed to pay a $1 million civil money penalty. The bank’s payment of the $1 million OCC penalty is credited to the FinCEN penalty. FinCEN also acknowledged the considerable resources the bank invested in its BSA compliance operations and customer due diligence processes. 

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering OCC

    Share page with AddThis
  • South Korean Earthquake Research Official Sentenced for Laundering Bribes

    Financial Crimes

    On October 2, the former director of the earthquake research center of South Korea’s Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources was reportedly sentenced in U.S. federal court to 14 months in prison for laundering bribes he had received in South Korea from seismology companies. Prosecutors argued to the federal jury, which convicted him in July, that he had demanded and received more than $1 million in bribes from two seismological companies in exchange for providing them with insider information and directed some of the funds to be transferred to his personal bank account in California.

    The former director has not been charged in South Korea, and his conviction and sentencing in the United States illustrate the US DOJ’s continued focus on targeting foreign officials who receive bribes and then travel to the US or use its financial system.

    Financial Crimes DOJ Anti-Money Laundering Bribery

    Share page with AddThis
  • OCC Releases Bank Supervision Operating Plan for Fiscal Year 2018

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On September 28, the OCC’s Committee on Bank Supervision released its  bank supervision operating plan (Plan) for fiscal year (FY) 2018. The Plan outlines the agency’s supervision priorities and specifically highlights the following supervisory focus areas: (i) cybersecurity and operational resiliency; (ii) commercial and retail credit loan underwriting, concentration risk management, and the allowance for loan and lease losses; (iii) business model sustainability and viability and strategy changes; (iv) Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering compliance management; and (v) change management to address new regulatory requirements.

    The annual Plan guides the development of supervisory strategies for individual national banks, federal savings associations, federal branches, and federal agencies, and service providers.

    The OCC will provide updates about these priorities in its Semiannual Risk Perspective, as InfoBytes has previously covered.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance OCC Risk Management Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act Compliance Lending Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

    Share page with AddThis
  • FinCEN Issues Advisory Regarding FATF-Identified Jurisdictions With AML/CFT Deficiencies

    Financial Crimes

    On September 15, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory to financial institutions based on June 23, 2017 updates to the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) list of jurisdictions identified as having “strategic deficiencies” in their anti-money laundering/combatting 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 they have developed an action plan are: Bosnia and Herzegovina; Ethiopia; Iraq; Syria; Uganda; Vanuatu; and Yemen. Notably, Afghanistan and Lao PDR have been removed from this list for making “significant technical progress in improving [their] AML/CFT regime[s] and . . . establish[ing] the legal and regulatory framework to meet [their] commitments in [their] action plan[s].” North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Iran remain the two jurisdictions subject to countermeasures and enhanced due diligence (or EDD) due to AML/CFT deficiencies.

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

    Share page with AddThis
  • FCPA Sting Operation Results in Conspiracy Charge for Retired U.S. Army Colonel

    Financial Crimes

    On August 29, the DOJ announced that it had unsealed a criminal complaint and FBI affidavit charging a retired U.S. Army colonel “for his alleged role in a foreign bribery and money laundering scheme in connection with a planned $84 million port development project in Haiti.” The DOJ alleges that he solicited bribes “from undercover [FBI] agents in Boston who posed as potential investors,” telling the agents “that he would funnel the payments to Haitian officials through a non-profit entity that he controlled . . . in order to secure government approval of the project.” The retired colonel allegedly received a $50,000 payment from the FBI, which he wired to his non-profit organization. While he ultimately used the payment for personal purposes, rather than his promised bribery, he allegedly “intended to seek additional money from the undercover agents to use for future bribe payments in connection with the port project.” The DOJ also alleges that FBI agents intercepted telephone calls where he “discussed bribing an aide to a senior Haitian official by giving him a job on the port development project after he left his position.”

    FCPA sting operations are relatively rare. An infamous FCPA sting operation involving Africa resulted in charges for 22 defendants, but it concluded unsuccessfully in 2012 after a series of acquittals and hung juries caused the DOJ to dismiss the remaining indictments.

    Financial Crimes DOJ Bribery Anti-Money Laundering

    Share page with AddThis
  • GAO Issues Report on Combating Narcotics-Related Money Laundering in the Western Hemisphere

    Financial Crimes

    On September 7, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report, Anti-Money Laundering: U.S. Efforts to Combat Narcotics-Related Money Laundering in the Western Hemisphere, detailing activities by the Treasury and State Departments to combat these illicit activities. In conducting the study, GAO reviewed laws, regulations, and budget data, and also conducted interviews with experts and U.S. officials, in order to examine anti-money laundering activities over the period of fiscal years 2011 through 2015. GAO also made site visits to Colombia, Mexico, and Panama, identified as “jurisdictions of primary concern for money laundering” by the State Department. Among other things, the report noted that “State and Treasury allocated about $63 million to support AML-related capacity-building and technical assistance” to fund training and equipment for financial intelligence units employed to detect illicit financial transactions in these countries. The report further provides that many entities are required to report suspicious activities to the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which was established to collect, analyze, and disseminate “financial intelligence information to combat money laundering.”

    Financial Crimes Anti-Money Laundering GAO Bank Secrecy Act Department of Treasury Department of State FinCEN

    Share page with AddThis
  • NYDFS Fines Global Bank Nearly $630 Million for Alleged BSA/AML Compliance Failures

    Financial Crimes

    On August 24, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) announced that it had assessed a nearly $630 million fine against a global bank (Bank) and its New York branch as part of a consent order addressing allegations that the Bank failed to fix “serious” and “persistent” failures in its Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance programs. NYDFS claimed in its Notice of Hearing and Statement of Charges (Notice) that these failures “indicate a fundamental lack of understanding of the need for a vigorous compliance infrastructure, and the dangerous absence of attention by [the Bank’s] senior management for the state of compliance at the [Bank’s] New York branch.” NYDFS will move for the penalty at a hearing scheduled for September 27, 2017. According to an order issued that same day, NYDFS expanded its investigation into the alleged misconduct to cover the period between October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014, and April 1, 2015 through July 31, 2017. Specifically, the violations cited in the Notice include the following:

    • 855 “batch-waived” transaction alerts that were improperly “cleared by [New York] Branch staff without review or rationale for the failure to review the alerts” and without written approval of the batch waive process by head office or local management;
    • control deficiencies concerning the Bank’s relationship with a Saudi Arabian bank with reported ties to Al Qaeda and the financing of terrorism—transactions with the Saudi Arabian bank comprised approximately 24 percent of the total number of transactions conducted through the New York branch;
    • more than 13,000 transactions failed to identify essential information such as originator and beneficiary identities; and
    • more than 4,000 transactions were excluded from screening after being included on the Bank’s “good guy list” comprised of customers “who purportedly have been screened and identified as very low risk,” although the investigation identified several parties that had been either “improperly included” or met criteria which warranted screening.

    The Bank issued a press release following the announcement, stating its plans to “vigorously contest [the penalty] . . . as being unjustified, capricious, unreasonable, not supported by facts or law and as being time barred.” The Bank claimed it has undergone “sincere and extensive remediation measures” to improve its compliance efforts since NYDFS issued an order in 2015 calling for oversight and improvements to its BSA/AML processes. The Bank expressed its intention to surrender its foreign bank branch license for the New York branch and NYDFS has issued an order to effectuate the surrender by September 23, 2017.

    Financial Crimes Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering

    Share page with AddThis
  • FDIC Releases Summer 2017 Supervisory Insights

    Federal Issues

    On August 30, the FDIC released its Summer 2017 Supervisory Insights (see FIL-39-2017), which contains articles discussing community bank liquidity risks and developments and changes to the Bank Secrecy Act. The first article, “Community Bank Liquidity Risk: Trends and Observations from Recent Examinations,” discusses, among other things, (i) an overview of trends in liquidity risk; (ii) the importance of liquidity risk management and contingency funding plans as bank management navigate funding, mitigate liquidity stress, and plan for the future; and (iii) “principles outlined in existing supervisory guidance.” The first article is “intended as a resource for bankers who wish to heighten awareness of prudent liquidity and funds management.” The second article, “The Bank Secrecy Act: A Supervisory Update,” emphasizes the role information collected through Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) programs plays in the U.S. government’s counter terrorist financing initiatives and other financial system protection measures. The article also provides an overview of the financial regulatory agency examination process, compliance program monitoring, recent trends in BSA/AML examination findings, and examples of significant deficiencies in BSA/AML compliance programs that necessitated formal remediation. In addition, the summer issue includes an overview of recently released regulations and supervisory guidance in its Regulatory and Supervisory Roundup.

    Federal Issues FDIC Banking Bank Supervision Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism

    Share page with AddThis