Posts Tagged ‘AML’

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Chase assesses risk, closes suspected accounts

June 21, 2013

Banks have a responsibility under federal law to deny account services to customers who are at risk for funding terrorism, money laundering, or evading economic sanctions.  Banks can’t allow customers to send money to countries that lack safeguards against such activities either.

Accordingly, JPMorgan Chase has closed an unspecified number of accounts that are at risk for abuse or criminal behavior by customers who are, according to the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslims or Arabs.

The Arab-American Civil Rights League also alleges 50 “improper” account closures by banks such as Flagstar, Charter One, and Comerica.

Opponents of such bank closures would be better served by proposing changes to federal law rather than threatening lawsuits against banks that are simply carrying out their duties under the existing rules.

From the Detroit News:

Muslim, Arab-American groups say banks closing accounts without explanation

  • Mark Hicks, June 13, 2013

Two groups are seeking answers to what they say is a growing practice of Muslim and Arab-American groups having their bank accounts closed without cause or explanation.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations–Michigan is asking the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, to investigate the complaints and the Arab-American Civil Rights League in Dearborn is pursuing a lawsuit against major banks.

“We see a type of pattern taking place in the Muslim/Arab community,” Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR–MI, said Wednesday. “Bank accounts are being closed with no real justification … so it appears on the surface that there could be some sort of bias involved.”

One of the latest reported incidents, according to CAIR–MI, involved Alif Arabic, a business described as teaching Arabic to American citizens online. Officials there were notified May 30 by JPMorgan Chase their bank account would be terminated within 10 days. JPMorgan Chase officials did not detail why, according to the letter.

When an Alif Arabic employee asked the bank for clarification, they were told an analytical tool “alerted them that Alif’s account could pose a possible risk,” the letter read.

Walid said such a move could suggest discrimination based on religion and ethnicity. “We need answers and the bank is not giving answers,” he said.

Emily Smith, a JPMorgan Chase spokeswoman, said privacy reasons prevent the company from discussing details of its customer relationships. However, “on occasion, Chase determines it can no longer maintain a customer’s account but those decisions are not based on the customer’s religion, ethnicity or any other similar basis.”

Bryan Hubbard, a spokesman for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said: “We have just become aware of the letter and have not had a chance to review. We will look into these allegations.”

Meanwhile, the Arab-American Civil Rights League plans to file a lawsuit after nearly 50 incidents of individual and business accounts being closed.

The group earlier this year asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and launched a hotline for complaints after some area residents were notified by Huntington National Bank and other institutions their accounts were terminated without explanation.

That affected professionals and others who believed they acted lawfully, said Nabih Ayad, the league’s board chairman.

“It’s just a shame this continues to happen. It’s not fair to the community,” he said. “These sort of circumstances, they’re basically telling Arab Americans: ‘You’re not at the same level or beneath the average American”…

H/t to Creeping Sharia for sending this over.

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Word of the week: BSA

May 29, 2013

The Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) is the primary law in the U.S. against money laundering.  Cassara and Jorisch* explain the BSA as follows:

Officially known as the “Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act,” it requires financial institutions to help various government agencies detect and prevent money laundering.  Specifically, the BSA requires banks and other financial institutions to file reports of currency transactions exceeding $10,000, to keep records of cash purchases of negotiable instruments, and to report suspicious activity.

The IRS notes that BSA requirements serve to “detect and deter money laundering whether it is in furtherance of a criminal enterprise, terrorism, tax evasion or other unlawful activity.”

*Cassara, John and Jorisch, Avi.  On the Trail of Terror Finance (Washington, D.C.:  Red Cell Intelligence Group, 2010).

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Jihadists pass zakat through Nigerian banks and charities for Boko Haram

March 25, 2013

The Nigerian newspaper Punch reports that financial regulators say Islamic charities are being used to fund Boko Haram.

Terrorist sympathizers are also structuring their bank transactions—a classic money laundering technique—in small enough increments to avoid triggering the filing of suspicious transaction reports by the banks they use.

This is the classic money jihad.  Fundamentalist Muslim leaders are obtaining zakat donations from extremist parishioners who believe, as the Koran and Hadith instruct them, that they should wage jihad with their lives and their wealth, and that the mujahideen are an eligible category of zakat recipients.

Read it all:

NFIU probes banks, charities over Boko Haram funds

March 23, 2013

Anti-terrorism experts in the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit have placed some banks and charities in the country under watch for allegedly aiding the transfer of funds by Boko Haram.

This is just as there are indications that the extremist group has been involved in recruiting suicide bombers from refugee camps run by the Polisario Front in Algeria.

NFIU sources told Saturday PUNCH that sympathisers of the group had been exploiting monetary practices embedded in Islamic culture, such as Zakat, donation to charities and alms-giving to channel funds to it.

It was learnt that the ease with which terror sponsors had been moving money for terror operations through the banks had also made the job more difficult.

“Being persuasive preachers, the terror commanders often persuade some Muslim Ummah to give Zakat to their jihadist cause. This brings in a lot of money used in terror operations. Security agencies are finding difficult to track this because it leaves no paper trail or bank details,” a source stated.

Saturday PUNCH also learnt that some financial institutions were also being unwittingly used to transfer funds meant for terrorist activities by sponsors and sympathisers of these groups, who move such money in bits to avoid detection.

These banks are said to have ignored the provisions of the law to help customers to transfer money in and out of the country without filing the compulsory suspicious transaction reports where necessary.

Under the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011, the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011, Central Bank of Nigeria Anti-Money Laundering/ Combating the Financing of Terrorism Regulation, 2009 (as amended) and other AML/CFT Guidelines, banks and other financial institutions must render suspicious transaction reports to the NFIU, properly identify persons conducting transactions and maintain a paper trail by keeping appropriate records of their financial transactions.

The records will enable law enforcement and regulatory agencies to pursue investigations of criminal, tax and regulatory violations and provide useful evidence in prosecuting money laundering and other financial crimes. The legal provisions were designed to help identify the source, volume and movement of currency and other monetary instruments transported or transmitted into or out of Nigeria, or deposited in financial institutions in the country.

The laws impose criminal liability on a person or financial institution that knowingly assists in the laundering of money or fails to report suspicious transactions conducted through it.

Saturday PUNCH learnt that many financial institutions had neglected to file reports of suspicious transactions with the NFIU, in order not to lose the accounts of high profile clients who move huge funds.

Some of these funds are believed to be proceeds of crime or money laundering, one of the sources said.

“Sometimes, the banks assist their clients to transfer huge amounts in small lodgements to avoid filing a suspicious transaction report as mandated by law; we know all these tricks and we are working to deal with them,” the security official said.

Findings indicated that the terror cells also rely on foreign donations from jihadist organisations in Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia camouflaging as charity groups.

NFIU had also expressed concern over the reluctance of banks to file STR, noting that the insurance industry was more compliant with regard to money laundering and financing of terrorism…

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Pakistan falters on terrorism funding

November 16, 2012

Much like the recent ultimatum given to Turkey for its insufficient laws against the financing of terrorism, FATF may blacklist Pakistan if it doesn’t update its laws against money laundering and the financing of militants.

In an editorial from the Express Tribune (h/t El Grillo), even the journalists of Pakistan realize that the government should stop pointing fingers, and comply with FATF’s guidance to do more to address the actual problem of terrorism, which has led to 40,000 deaths in Pakistan:

Blocking terrorist funding

The United Nations can slap Iran and North Korea-like sanctions on Pakistan next year if the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards on curbing money laundering and terror financing are not met. In an attempt to ward off this threat, Pakistan is now lobbying to seek international support and feels that the reason it is being targeted is because the FATF is heavily dominated by Western countries and India. Instead of being worried about the FATF’s member countries’ “political motives”, Pakistan should focus on meeting the requirements set by the international anti-money laundering watchdog, as curbing terrorism is something that should be our top priority in any case. Pakistan has suffered the most from home-grown terror; we have lost more than 40,000 lives in terror attacks. The fact that non-state actors have managed to launch cross-border terror attacks and planned attacks in other countries has put Pakistan in further trouble.

The government has reportedly improved the current legislation on counterterrorism financing, which will soon be presented before parliament for approval. The anti-terror legislation must be brought forward as soon as possible. It is an open secret how some terrorist organisations use to have links to elements within the establishment. Since the government was unable to stop these elements from pursuing a deeply flawed policy, the least it can do is put a firm stop to terrorist-funding by bringing in a strong anti-terror legislation. Money laundering is one of the primary sources of finance through which terrorist groups are able to fund their activities. If this source of financing can be cut off, we would be able to somewhat control our terror problems.

Pakistanis live in constant fear of terror attacks on both military and civilian targets. Ridding our soil of terrorists is a win-win for both Pakistan and the international community. It is about time we took this important step and brought forward the anti-terror legislation.

In a sane world, Pakistan would have already been recognized globally for its state sponsorship of terrorism years ago.  But to the degree that international pressure will bring about some marginal legal and financial reform, FATF’s standards are probably a helpful incentive.

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Turkish Bank fined £294,000 for violation

October 24, 2012

Turkish Bank has settled with Britain’s financial regulator for breaking rules written to prevent money laundering.  What’s surprising about this story is that the U.K. had already warned Turkish Bank about its practices, but the bank continued the same behavior anyway.  One wonders who exactly, such as corrupt politicians in the Middle East, may have been depositing funds into Turkish accounts without adequate screening procedures.

From this month’s edition of Anti-Money Laundering Magazine:

Turkish Bank loses its sweetness

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has fined Turkish Bank (UK) Ltd (TBUK) £294,000 for breaching the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 (MLR).

These breaches – which related to TBUK’s correspondent banking arrangements – were widespread and took place over two-and-a-half years. They led to an unacceptable risk that TBUK could have been used to launder money. This is the first occasion in which the FSA has taken enforcement action against a firm in relation to money laundering weaknesses in its correspondent banking arrangements.

TBUK is a wholly owned subsidiary of Turkish Bank Limited which is incorporated in Northern Cyprus. TBUK’s customer base is mainly retail. TBUK offers a range of financial services, including correspondent banking. Correspondent banking involves a bank (correspondent) providing banking services to an overseas bank (respondent) to enable the respondent to provide its own customers with cross-border products and services, such as payment and clearing that it cannot provide them with itself. TBUK acted as a correspondent bank for nine respondent banks in Turkey and six respondent banks in Northern Cyprus between 15 December 2007 and 3 July 2010.

Under the MLR, providing correspondent banking services to banks based in non-European Economic Areas states is recognised as creating a high risk of money laundering that requires enhanced due diligence and ongoing monitoring of the relationship. During this period, Turkey and Northern Cyprus did not have anti-money laundering (AML) requirements that were equivalent to those in the UK.

The FSA visited TBUK in July 2010 as part of a thematic review of how banks operating in the UK were managing money laundering risks. This thematic review resulted in the eye-popping report released in July 2011. It contained alarming findings. The FSA’s visit to TBUK gave serious cause for concern in relation to TBUK’s AML controls over correspondent banking leading to this enforcement action.

TBUK’s breaches of the MLR included failing to:

  • establish and maintain appropriate and risk-sensitive AML policies and procedures for its correspondent banking relationships
  • carry out adequate due diligence on, and ongoing monitoring of, the respondent banks it dealt with and failing to reconsider these relationships when this was not possible
  • maintain adequate records relating to the above.

While not deliberate or reckless, these failings were more serious because the FSA had previously warned TBUK of deficiencies in its approach to AML controls over correspondent banking.

Tracey McDermott, Acting Director of the Enforcement and Financial Crime Division, said: “Turkish Bank fell far short of the standards we expect of firms in managing their money laundering risks. This was despite clear warnings from the FSA that it needed to improve”…

In other news, Turkey faces expulsion from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for its insufficient efforts in “blocking the financing of terrorist groups” if it doesn’t tighten its laws within four months.

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U.S. banks should review Nicaraguan accounts

September 16, 2012

While the report that Hezbollah operates a training camp in Nicaragua has garnered a lot of attention, the terrorist financing implications have barely been discussed.  Fortunately, Kenneth Rijock has taken up the issue, and offers some astute analysis on how the news should affect compliance officers at U.S. and Canadian financial institutions in their evaluation of correspondent relationships in Nicaragua and Honduras.  From Rijock’s financial crime blog last week:

HEZBOLLAH MONEY LAUNDERING OPERATIONS IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

The international media today discussed the reports of a Hezbollah terrorist training camp, located in Northern Nicaragua, near the frontier with Honduras, where 30 cadre are reportedly preparing trainees for attacks upon the United States, in the event that America, or Israel, attempts to destroy Iran’s illegal nuclear programme. This is extremely disturbing; Hezbollah Venezuela has existed for several years, but an organised Hezbollah presence in Central America presents a clear & present danger to the Continental United States.

There is an even more ominous aspect to this camp: buried in the reports about the camp is the information that it is also being utilised for money laundering activities. We know that one of Hezbollah’s principal methods of financing its operation is the sale of cocaine, but are they also laundering the criminal proceeds of others?

Regular readers of the blog will recall the seizure of millions of dollars, in the general area recently, in the possession of a well-prepared group of Mexican bulk cash smugglers, posing as media employees arriving to cover a criminal trial. If Hezbollah is laundering Mexican cartel, or Colombian trafficker profits, it will probably be using commercial banks in Central America to accept the dollars, which means they will later transit US banking centres.

If you are a compliance officer at a North American bank that has correspondent relationships with Nicaraguan commercial banks, casas de cambio, or non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs), you may want to determine whether volume from those correspondents has increased of late, and whether your correspondent’s clients have legitimate lines of business to justify the additional funds.

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Ayatollah to the Revolutionary Guard: Charge it!

August 19, 2012

Money laundering expert Kenneth Rijock has been on fire lately about the alleged banking violations by HSBC, ING, and Standard Chartered.  Now he takes on MasterCard in a post entitled “Why are there 3 million MasterCard holders in Iran?”  Good question.  Rijock says he has reviewed a list of cardholders, and that the lists include senior Iranian leaders, which would indicate a significant loophole in the sanctions regime against Iran in addition to representing a major compliance failure on the part of the credit card company.

From Rijock’s blog on Aug. 2:

WHY ARE THERE 3m MASTERCARD HOLDERS IN IRAN ?

Whilst we are on the subject of banks like HSBC banking Iranians, in violation of international sanctions, we should also examine the role of American credit card issuers. I will cover the financial obscenity of vanilla [plain, unmarked] cards in a later article, but today it is time to expose the fact that major American credit card issuers, like MasterCard, are happy to do business with more than three million Iranian nationals.
Even the newest bank compliance officer knows that Politically Exposed Persons, or PEPs, from sanctioned countries like Iran, are off limits. So why are senior Iranian PEPs issued MasterCards ? I have seen some of the cardholder lists, and anyone with half a brain can determine, from both their occupations or professions, and email address categories, that a large number of the card-members appear to be PEPs, and in a country where many corporations are on the OFAC, EU, or UN sanctions lists, issuing them credit cards is compliance malpractise, plain and simple.

I am sure that MasterCard’s management (and lawyers) will respond that some obscure tax haven subsidiary, and not the USA parent, is involved, and that banks that process the cards are conveniently not from countries that subscribe to sanctions against Iran, are actually involved in the transactions, but know this: MasterCard’s American entities use proprietary software that shows each and every global transaction. They know damn well that their subsidiaries are dancing with the devil.

So, whilst the letter of the law is assuredly being followed, and there is no obvious OFAC violation under federal law, Iranian nationals apparently are free to use their MasterCards overseas. Who is charging the purchases of dual-purpose goods, that are thereafter used in Iran to advance the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Ballistic Missile programmes, I wonder.

It gets worse; If America attacks Iran, to destroy its illegal nuclear weapons programme, will some of the defensive systems employed by Iran to shoot down US warplanes have been obtained by Iranian purchasing officers, using their MasterCards ? This is where the pursuit of profit trumps patriotism; Some will call it Trading with the Enemy.