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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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 Treasury Department Department of State FinCEN

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • OCC Announces Recent Enforcement Actions and Terminations

    Federal Issues

    On August 18, the OCC released a list of new enforcement actions taken against national banks, federal savings associations, and institution-affiliated parties as well as a list of existing enforcement actions that were terminated recently. The actions include cease and desist orders, civil money penalties, removal/prohibition orders and restitution orders.

    Cease and Desist Order. On July 18, the OCC issued a consent order against a Florida-based bank for deficiencies related to its Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) rules and regulations. The consent order, among other things, requires the bank to: (i) appoint a compliance committee responsible for ensuring the bank adheres to the order; (ii) appoint a BSA officer who will “ensure compliance with the requirements of the [BSA] . . . and regulations of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)”; (iii) acquire an independent third-party consultant to conduct a formal written assessment of the bank’s BSA oversight infrastructure to determine BSA/Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliance; (iv) review and update a comprehensive BSA/AML compliance action plan and monitoring system, including implementing processes to timely identify and analyze suspicious activity and file suspicious activity reports (SARs); (v) create a comprehensive training program for “appropriate operational and supervisory personnel to ensure their awareness of their specific assigned responsibilities for compliance with” the BSA; (vi) develop policies and procedures related to the collection of customer due diligence and enhanced due diligence; (vii) monitor accounts for “high-risk customers/transactions”; (viii) implement an independent BSA/AML audit program and written risk assessment program; and (ix) conduct a “Look-Back” plan to determine whether suspicious activity was timely identified and reported by the bank and whether additional SARs should be filed for unreported suspicious activity. The bank, while agreeing to the terms of the consent order, has not admitted or denied any wrongdoing.

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

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  • FinCEN Updates GTOs for Title Insurance Companies in Several Major Metropolitan Areas, Issues Advisory to Financial Institutions and Real Estate Industry Regarding Associated Money Laundering Risks

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On August 22, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) published an announcement releasing revised Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) that “require U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies used to pay for high-end residential real estate in seven major metropolitan areas[,]” without the use of a bank loan or other type of external financing but, rather, with the use of—at least in part—cash or a cashier’s check or similar instrument. The GTOs have also been expanded to now include high-end real estate transactions conducted in the following places: (i) Manhattan ($3 million) and all other boroughs of New York city ($1.5 million); (ii) Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties ($1 million); (iii) Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties ($2 million); (iv) Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio ($500,000); and (v) city and county of Honolulu, Hawaii ($3 million). 

    Through the revised GTOs, FinCEN seeks to capture a broader range of transactions, including those involving wire transfers. According to FinCEN’s analysis of data covering GTOs, nearly 30 percent of the targeted transactions ended up involving a beneficial owner or representative who is already the subject of a previous suspicious activity report. The results appear to corroborate concerns underlying FinCEN’s rationale for issuing GTOs in the first place, and will assist future efforts to “assess and combat the money laundering risks associated with luxury residential real estate purchases.” For additional information concerning GTO compliance, FAQs released by FinCEN in August 2017 are available here.

    FinCEN also published an Advisory that same day to provide financial institutions and the real estate industry with information on the money laundering risks associated with real estate transactions, including those involving luxury property purchased through shell companies, particularly when conducted as “all-cash” transactions without traditional financing. The Advisory also provides an overview of anti-money laundering regulations affecting the real estate sector.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering SARs GTO

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  • Macau Real Estate Developer Convicted of Violating FCPA

    Financial Crimes

    On July 27, 2017, a federal jury in the Southern District of New York convicted a Macau real estate developer of bribery, money laundering, and conspiracy, for his role in a widespread plan to bribe United Nations officials in order to establish a new conference facility in Macau. Five other defendants have also been charged; four have pleaded guilty, and one passed away. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

    As pointed out on the FCPA Professor, this is a significant win for the DOJ because it marks the first time since 2011 that the DOJ has successfully taken an FCPA case to verdict. Our additional coverage of this matter can be viewed here.

    Financial Crimes Anti-Money Laundering Bribery

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  • FINRA to Host AML Seminars

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On August 2, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that it will host a series of anti-money laundering (AML) seminars for compliance professionals, led by managers of the FINRA AML Unit. The seminars on October 19 (Dallas, Texas), November 7 (Boca Raton, Florida), and November 13 (New York, NY) will discuss money laundering fundamentals and typologies, applicable rules and regulations, and guidelines for monitoring for suspicious activity.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FINRA Compliance Anti-Money Laundering

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  • SEC Reaches Settlement with Broker-Dealer Over Alleged Sale of Unregistered Stocks and Failure to File SARs


    On July 28, the SEC announced it had reached a settlement in an administrative proceeding against a broker-dealer firm for allegedly selling hundreds of millions of unregistered penny stock shares and failing to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) for over $24.8 million in suspicious transactions with the Financial Crime Enforcement Network. Bank Secrecy Act regulations require a broker-dealer to file SARs if it “knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect that the transaction . . . involves funds derived from illegal activity or is intended . . . to hide or disguise funds” to evade anti-money laundering (AML) rules. A broker-deal must also file SARs if there is no apparent lawful purpose for the transaction or if the transaction is to facilitate criminal activity. According to the settlement, the firm’s actions violated the Securities Act and Exchange Act. In addition to being censured and agreeing pay a $200,000 penalty, the firm will no longer accept the deposit of stocks valued under $5.00 and will retain an independent consultant to assist with mandatory enhancements to the firm’s AML policies and procedures.

    Securities Financial Crimes SEC Anti-Money Laundering SARs Bank Secrecy Act FinCEN

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