Critics Bemoan Removal of Potential Weapon Against Shell Companies
Last week, and on the eve of a scheduled markup of the original bill in the House Financial Services Committee, a new draft of the Counter Terrorism and Illicit Finance Act (“CTIFA”) was sent to Congress. That bill, among other things, removes a key passage of what promised to be the most substantial overhaul to the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) since the PATRIOT Act.
As we blogged in a January 2018 two-part series (see here and here), the original legislation would have required – subject to civil and criminal penalty provisions – non-exempt companies formed in the U.S. to disclose their real beneficial owners to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The new bill eliminates the beneficial ownership provision entirely; in its place, the bill merely requires the Comptroller General of the United States “to submit a report evaluating the effectiveness of the collection of beneficial ownership information under the Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”) regulation” (see here), “as well as the regulatory burden and costs imposed on financial institutions subject to it.”
Acknowledging the bill’s removal from mark-up, Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said she hoped the new bill will be strengthened to address the issue of beneficial ownership, as well as “the problem of anonymous shell companies.” The Fraternal Order of Police went further, describing the removal of the beneficial ownership provisions as “almost criminal.”
To be sure, the lack of transparency concerning beneficial ownership is widely viewed as a weakness in the U.S.’s efforts to combat money laundering. As noted in our February post concerning various Senate subcommittee hearings related to the topic, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General M. Kendall Day of the Department of Justice, Criminal Division, recently testified that “[t]he pervasive use of front companies, shell companies, nominees, or other means to conceal the true beneficial owners of assets is one of the greatest loopholes in this country’s AML regime.” Indeed, the Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) recently scored the U.S. as non-compliant – the lowest possible score – in connection with its ability to determine beneficial owners.