The potential role of high-end art and antiquities in money laundering schemes has attracted increasing attention over the last several years, particularly as the prices for such objects steadily rise and a tightening global enforcement and regulatory net has rendered other possible avenues for money laundering increasingly less attractive. The effort to subject U.S. dealers in art and antiquities to Anti-Money-Laundering (“AML”) obligations recently has gained new life.  As we blogged, the House Financial Services Committee just released three proposed bills to codify many of the reform ideas that have been swirling around the Bank Secretary Act (“BSA”) and AML and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”) laws.  One of the bills — entitled as the “To make reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, and for other purposes” —  catalogues various detailed provisions seeking to reform the BSA and AML laws.  Nestled admist all of the other, generally higher-profile proposals (such as the creation of a BSA whistleblower program), one short section of this bill simply expands the list of defined “financial institutions” covered by the BSA to include “dealers in art or antiquities,” and then states that the Secretary of the Treasury shall issue implementing regulations within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.

Regardless of whether this provision ultimately is enacted, the underlying issue will persist.  This post discusses some of the general concerns that the art and antiquities world can be misused as a conduit for dirty money.  We then discuss the AML Standards for Art Market Operators proposed by the Basel Institute on Governance, and similar standards set forth by the Responsible Art Market, both of which attempt to set forth a framework for those in the business of trading art to mitigate their money laundering risks. Continue Reading Art and Money Laundering

Bill Would Create BSA Whistleblower Program

First Post in a Two-Post Series

Last week, the House Financial Services Committee released three proposed bills to codify many of the reform ideas that have arisen in an ongoing conversation among financial agencies, law enforcement, financial institutions, and commentators regarding the Bank Secretary Act (“BSA”) and Anti-Money-Laundering (“AML”) and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”) laws. These reform topics include information sharing, resource sharing, and technological innovation — all of which have been repeat topics for this blog.

One proposed bill — entitled as the “To make reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, and for other purposes” — seeks to reform the BSA and AML laws (the “BSA/AML Reform Bill”) and is divided into three main sections: Strengthening the Treasury; Improving AML/CFT Oversight; and Modernizing the AML System. Through the three sections, common themes emerge, including an emphasis on: BSA/AML regulation as a matter of national security; the need for cooperation among both the public/private sectors as well as the international community; and the need to encourage innovation as the technological conduits for financial crimes continue to evolve.  The BSA/AML Reform Bill is extremely detailed, with many various provisions, and we merely will summarize its major points here.

Next week, we will blog on one of the other proposed bills, The Corporate Transparency Act of 2019, which seeks to ensure that persons who form legal entities in the U.S. disclose the beneficial owners of those entities. Continue Reading The House Financial Services Committee Releases Proposed Legislation to Codify BSA/AML Reform Initiatives

In recognition of the significance South America has played in recent FCPA enforcement, yesterday the FBI announced that it will establish a team of agents in Miami focused on FCPA cases in Miami and South America. Leslie Backschies, the Chief of the FBI’s international corruption unit, told reporters on March 4, 2019, that the new squad will focus not only on possible payoffs to South American government officials in order to obtain or retain business (bread and butter FCPA cases) but also focus on what happens to that money once it is paid.

Backschies said: “One thing when I talk to companies [she asks] do you know where your bribe goes? Is your bribe going to fund terrorism.” She also noted that Miami has become a hub of possible money laundering – “it’s a city where we see individuals hiding their money, through shell companies, through real estate, through boating.” The new squad in Miami will be comprised on six FBI agents and will report directly to officials at FBI headquarters in Washington.

The new team therefore will focus on several frequent topics of this blog: the strong overlap between FCPA and money laundering cases; the use of high-end U.S. real estate to launder money; the push to track the beneficial ownership of entities; the movement of proceeds of official corruption through the international financial system; and the money laundering relationship between the United States and South America — particularly, at least within the last few years, Venezuela (among other posts involving Venezuela, see herehere and here).

If you would like to remain updated on these issues, please click here to subscribe to Money Laundering Watch. Please click here to find out about Ballard Spahr’s Anti-Money Laundering Team.

The Danske Bank money laundering scandal continues to reveal its many permutations and confirm its status as the largest money laundering case in history. We summarize here certain events since November 2018, since we last have blogged about the case (see here, here, and here). Proving that no one is immune from the potential taint, notable events include an investigation announced by the Estonian financial regulator; an investigation into that same Estonian regulator itself; the commencement of the inevitable investor lawsuit; and scrutiny of what some have described as the “cleanest” bank in the world, Swedbank, one of the most important banks in Northern Europe. Continue Reading Massive Danske Bank Money Laundering Scandal Continues to Unfold

“Sanctions Bill from Hell” Targets Real Estate Deals

On February 13, 2019, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R – S.C.) introduced S.482 – the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2019 (“DASKAA”), a bill intended “[t]o strengthen the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to combat international cybercrime, and to impose additional sanctions with respect to the Russian Federation and for other purposes.” DASKAA was introduced by a bipartisan coalition of Senators and is a revision to a similar bill that was introduced but stalled in the Senate in 2018.

Like its previous iteration, dubbed by its authors as the “sanctions bill from hell,” DASKAA would implement a litany of measures meant to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election and to combat future aggression, including the development of chemical weapons, cybercrime, election interference and, importantly for our purposes, money laundering. Russian officials have denounced the bill, referring to the proposed sanctions as “insane”, “reckless”, and amounting to “racketeering.” Whether DASKAA can reach the Senate floor, let alone achieve passage through both Houses of Congress and gain the signature of the President (whose son has observed publically that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets”), is as uncertain as the sources of Russian money flowing through the American economy. What is clear, however, is that neither the means by which Russia seeks to interfere with, exploit and influence America and the American economy, nor legislators’ willingness to keep a light on those efforts and develop measures to counter them, are going away. One example is DASKAA’s codification and expansion of the current use of Geographic Targeting Orders (“GTOs”) to combat money laundering through real estate transactions. Continue Reading Filling Gaps: Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2019 Would Expand Use of Geographic Targeting Orders

Federal legislators continue to struggle over the growing disconnect between increasing State legalization of the cannabis industry, and the continued illegality of cannabis under federal law. This struggle represents an increasingly pressing question for financial institutions, given the burgeoning market involving cannabis-related products – including third parties who provide services and equipment to growers and distributors – and its need for safe, traditional banking services. The latest chapter in this struggle was a hearing, entitled “Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses,” held by the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions on February 13. The recorded webcast is available here.

We previously have blogged about the unsteady regulatory ground on which financial institutions have been operating with regard to cannabis-related businesses, an industry legalized in many states but still in violation of federal drug laws and thus exposing its financial service providers to potential Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) violations and federal money laundering charges. The terrain grew only more perilous at the beginning of 2018 with then-Attorney General Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memo, and with it the prior limited assurance that the DOJ would not make prosecution of persons working in or with state-licensed cananbis businesses a DOJ priority.

The 2018 midterm elections, however, changed the landscape yet again. This post will discuss last week’s hearing and the growing opportunities and stubborn obstacles which it highlighted. Continue Reading Financial Services and the Marijuana Industry: the U.S. House Mulls Regulatory Reform for Financial Institutions and Cannabis-Related Businesses

As we have blogged (here and here), the United States – despite its self-perception as a global financial cop and “good guy” – is often regarded by the world as a haven for money laundering and tax evasion. The U.S. just took another black eye in the arena of global perception: the European Commission (“EC”) has placed the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa on a list of 23 high-risk jurisdictions which it says are “posing significant threats” to the European Union’s financial system as a result of deficiencies in their Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) and Countering the Financing of Terror (“CFT”) systems. Specifically, the EC perceives these jurisdictions as being attractive to money laundering and tax crimes. The listed United States’ territories and Commonwealths are not alone; they dubiously share space on the EC’s blacklist with Saudia Arabia and Panama.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. reaction was swift and angry: the U.S. Department of Treasury released a statement declaring that the list was flawed; the list was created without any meaningful input from the United States; and that the list contradicted the more careful analysis conducted by the Financial Action Task Force. Further, the Treasury Department stated that U.S. financial institutions should ignore this blacklisting, and did not need to apply any greater scrutiny to implicated transactions. Continue Reading Europe Increasingly Views United States as Faltering in Fight Against Money Laundering

Director Blanco Emphasizes BSA Resource Sharing, Technological Innovation, and Collaboration Between Public and Private Sectors

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released prepared remarks delivered by FinCEN director, Kenneth A. Blanco, at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) Anti-Money Laundering (AML) & Financial Crimes Conference on February 4, 2019. Director Blanco’s speech highlights various regulatory reform efforts, including the approval of collaborative sharing of Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) resources and an interagency initiative to promote innovation in the technologies and methodologies used to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The Director also emphasized the importance of collaboration among the public and private sectors.  These remarks do not occur in a vacuum; rather, they represent just part of what has been an ongoing conversation in the BSA/AML realm. Potential resource sharingtechnological innovation and information sharing have been repeated topics in this blog. Continue Reading FinCEN Director’s Remarks Highlight AML Regulatory Reform Efforts

Typical Virtual Currency Exchanges Do Not Require PA Money Transmitter Licenses

The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities (“DoBS”) just released Guidance declaring that virtual currency, “including Bitcoin,” is not considered “money” under the Pennsylvania Money Transmission Business Licensing Law, otherwise known as the Money Transmitter Act (“MTA”). Therefore, according to the Guidance, the operator of the typical virtual currency exchange platform, kiosk, ATM or vending machine does not represent a money transmitter subject to Pennsylvania licensure.

This Guidance is important because it has implications beyond merely the burdens imposed by Pennsylvania law for obtaining a money transmitter license. As we previously have blogged (here, here and here), it is a federal crime under 18 U.S.C § 1960 to operate as an unlicensed money transmitter business, which is defined in part as a business “operated without an appropriate money transmitting license in a State where such operation is punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony under State law, whether or not the defendant knew that the operation was required to be licensed or that the operation was so punishable.” Thus, a state law violation can become a federal violation. Further, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) has issued Guidance declaring that administrators or exchangers of digital currency – including popular crypto currencies such as Bitcoin – represent money transmitting businesses which must register with FinCEN under 31 U.S.C. § 5330 as money services businesses (“MSBs”), which in turn are governed by the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and related reporting and anti-money laundering compliance obligations. Moreover, a failure to register with FinCEN as a MSB when required also represents a separate violation of Section 1960. Drawing on the FinCEN guidance, federal courts have upheld the convictions of individuals who ran virtual currency exchanges and consequently were convicted of violating Section 1960 for operating unlicensed or unregistered money transmitter businesses. Continue Reading PA Department of Banking and Securities: Virtual Currency is not “Money”