On October 6, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced the creation of a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (“NCET”). The DOJ press release is set forth in part below, without further commentary, other than to observe that the NCET’s stated goals are to address issues on which we repeatedly have blogged: crypto exchangers and their AML
Peter is a national thought leader on money laundering, tax fraud, and other financial crime. He is the author of Criminal Tax, Money Laundering, and Bank Secrecy Act Litigation, a comprehensive legal treatise published by Bloomberg BNA. Peter co-chairs the Practising Law Institute's Anti-Money Laundering program, and serves on the Steering Committee for the Cambridge Forum on Sanctions & AML Compliance
He advises corporations and individuals from many industries against allegations of misconduct ranging from money laundering, tax fraud, mortgage fraud and lending law violations, securities fraud, and public corruption. He also advises on compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act and Anti-Money Laundering requirements. Peter handles complex litigation involving allegations of fraud or other misconduct.
Peter spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor before entering private practice, serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia working on financial crime cases. He was a trial attorney for the Criminal Section of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division in Washington, D.C.
Global AML Compliance Faces Challenges Relating to Regulator Expertise, the Travel Rule, Decentralized Finance, and “Regulator Shopping”
Today we are very pleased to welcome guest blogger Federico Paesano from the Basel Institute on Governance (“Basel Institute”). The Basel Institute recently issued its Basel AML Index for 2021 (“Basel AML Index”). This data-rich and fascinating annual publication, one of several online tools developed by the Basel Institute to help both public- and private-sector practitioners tackle financial crime, is a research-based ranking that assesses countries’ risk exposure to money laundering and terrorist financing. This year, we will focus on the section of the Basel AML Index which analyzes data from the Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) on how jurisdictions are responding to money laundering and terrorist financing threats related to virtual assets. The Basel AML Index concludes: “not well at all.”
Federico Paesano is a Senior Financial Investigation Specialist at the Basel Institute’s International Centre for Asset Recovery, and leads its Cryptocurrencies and Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Training. For 14 years, Federico worked for the Italian Financial Police, ending his career as Chief Investigator, leading and conducting judicial and financial investigations, focusing in particular on economic crimes such as corruption and money laundering. In July 2009, he was seconded by the Italian Government to the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan (“EUPOL”) as Mentor to the Minister of Interior on Anticorruption. Along with Europol and Interpol, Federico and the Basel Institute are co-organizing on December 7–8, 2021 the 5th Global Conference on Criminal Finances and Cryptocurrencies, which focuses on the emerging threat posed by criminals using new payment methods to conceal the proceeds of their crimes. His Quick Guide to Cryptocurrencies and Money Laundering Investigations may be found here.
The Basel Institute is a not-for-profit Swiss foundation dedicated to working with public and private partners around the world to prevent and combat corruption, and is an Associated Institute of the University of Basel. The Basel Institute’s work involves action, advice, and research on issues including anti-corruption collective action, asset recovery, corporate governance and compliance, and green corruption. Money Laundering Watch was pleased to have Gretta Fenner and Dr. Kateryna Boguslavska of the Basel Institute guest blog on the Basel AML Indices for 2020 and 2019.
This blog post again takes the form of a Q & A session, in which Federico responds to questions posed by Money Laundering Watch about the Basel AML Index 2021 and wider debates on the topic. We hope you enjoy this discussion of money laundering risks and virtual assets — which addresses regulators’ frequent lack of expertise, tracing of cryptocurrency transactions, the Travel Rule, the challenges posed by decentralized finance, “regulator shopping,” and more. —Peter Hardy and Andrew D’Aversa…
Continue Reading The Basel AML Index 2021: Virtual Assets and Money Laundering. A Guest Blog.
Second Post in a Two-Part Series on Recent OFAC Designations
As we blogged yesterday, OFAC has been busy. Right before OFAC designated the virtual currency exchange SUEX for allegedly facilitating ransomware payments, OFAC announced another significant but more traditional action on September 17, 2021 by designating members of a network of Lebanon and Kuwait-based…
OFAC Updates Advisory on Enforcement Risks Relating to Agreeing to Pay Ransomware
First Post in a Two-Part Series on Recent OFAC Designations
On September 21, 2021 OFAC issued its first sanctions designation against a virtual currency exchange by designating the virtual currency exchange, SUEX OTC, S.R.O. (SUEX) “for its part in facilitating financial transactions for ransomware variants.” Although this is a unique development, the broader and more important issue for any financial institution or company facing a ransomware attack is the continuing problem encapsulated in OFAC’s six-page Updated Advisory on Potential Sanctions Risks for Facilitating Ransomware Payments, which OFAC released in conjunction with the announcement of the SUEX designation. The Updated Advisory illustrates a “Catch 22” scenario, in which a victim that halts a ransomware attack by making the demanded payment then may find itself under scrutiny from OFAC on a strict-liability basis if it turns out that the attackers were sanctioned or otherwise had a sanctions nexus. The Updated Advisory states that OFAC will consider self-reporting, cooperation with the government and strong cybersecurity measures to be mitigating factors in any contemplated enforcement action.
OFAC has been busy. Tomorrow, we will blog on a more traditional action announced by OFAC right before the SUEX designation: OFAC’s designation of members of a network of financial conduits funding Hizballah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. This designation is notable for the targets’ alleged use of gold as a vehicle to launder illicit funds through front companies.…
Continue Reading OFAC Targets Virtual Currency Exchange For Ransomware Attack
Today, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued a Notice regarding online child sexual exploitation. Given its brevity, its text is set forth below in its entirety, without the footnotes. There is a final section to the Notice, not included below, which provides filing instructions regarding related Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs. We offer no…
Government Alleges Systemic and Deliberate AML Failures
Filings Describe Tools for CVC Exchanges to Use for Customer Due Diligence and Transaction Monitoring
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) announced on August 10 (here and here) settlements with the operators of the BitMEX cryptocurrency trading platform for alleged anti-money laundering (“AML”) violations under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), and for allegedly failing to register with the CFTC. More specifically, FinCEN’s assessment of a civil monetary penalty and the CFTC’s consent order both involved the five companies operating the BitMEX platform: HDR Global Trading Limited, 100x Holding Limited, ABS Global Trading Limited, Shine Effort Inc Limited, and HDR Global Services (Bermuda) Limited (collectively, “BitMEX”).
BitMEX will pay regulators up to a combined $100 million civil monetary penalty; perform a “lookback” regarding the potential need to file additional Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”); and hire an independent consultant to conduct two reviews of BitMEX’s operations, policies, procedures, and controls, in order to confirm that BitMEX is not operating in the U.S., and that no U.S. customers are able to trade with the BitMEX platform.
According to the government filings, BitMEX is one of the oldest cryptocurrency derivative exchanges, with 1.3 million user accounts and a collection of annual fees in excess of $1 billion. Combined, the government filings allege that for a period of six years between November 2014 and October 1, 2020, BitMEX offered trading of cryptocurrency derivatives to retail and institutional customers in the U.S. and worldwide through BitMEX’s website. Customers in the U.S. placed orders to buy or sell contracts directly through the website and BitMEX was aware that U.S. customers could access the BitMEX platform via virtual private network (“VPN”).
The civil penalty will be split between FinCEN and the CFTC. However, the settlement involves an interesting “carrot” offered by the regulators: $20 million of the penalty is suspended pending the successful completion of the SAR lookback and the two independent consultant reviews.
According to the government’s allegations, BitMEX deliberately ignored for years the most basic AML requirements, resulting in multitudinous violations and inviting – and even encouraging – its customers to launder illicit funds. As we will describe, the government has alleged that BitMEX operated on the announced pretext that it was not subject to the BSA or U.S. commodities laws because it had no U.S. customers or operations, when senior management knew otherwise.…
Continue Reading FinCEN and CFTC Reach Groundbreaking $100 Million AML Settlement with BitMEX
A Guest Blog by Angelena Bradfield
Today we are very pleased to welcome guest blogger Angelena Bradfield, who is the Senior Vice President of AML/BSA, Sanctions & Privacy for the Bank Policy Institute. BPI is a nonpartisan public policy, research and advocacy group, representing the nation’s leading banks. Its members include universal banks, regional banks and the major foreign banks doing business in the United States. BPI has been engaged in efforts to modernize the U.S. anti-money laundering/ countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime for almost half a decade and worked closely with Senate and House leadership throughout the introduction and final passage of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (AML Act). Angelena previously was a Vice President at The Clearing House Association, where she supported its regulatory affairs department in similar policy areas. Before that, she supported comprehensive immigration reform efforts at ImmigrationWorks USA and worked on various domestic policy issues at the White House where she served as a staff assistant in both the Domestic Policy Council and Presidential Correspondence offices.
We reached out to Angelena regarding BPI’s recent letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) commenting on its implementation of the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA). Congress passed the CTA on January 1, 2021, as part of the AML Act. The CTA requires certain legal entities to report their beneficial owners to a directory accessible by U.S. and foreign law enforcement and regulators. This directory also will be accessible to U.S. financial institutions seeking to comply with their own AML obligations, particularly the beneficial ownership regulation, otherwise known as the Customer Due Diligence Rule (CDD Rule), already applicable to banks and other financial institutions. The CTA’s beneficial ownership directory is one of the most important and long-awaited changes to the BSA/AML regulatory regime, but it presents many challenges, both legal and logistical. On April 5, 2021, FinCEN issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to solicit public comment on the CTA’s implementation. In response, FinCEN received over 200 letters from industry stakeholders – including the letter from BPI.
This blog post again takes the form of a Q&A session, in which Angelena responds to questions posed by Money Laundering Watch about the CTA and how it should be implemented. We hope you enjoy this discussion on this important topic. – Peter Hardy and Shauna Pierson…
Continue Reading Implementing the Corporate Transparency Act: A Guest Blog
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) recently complied with two important deadlines under the Anti-Money Laundering Act (“AML Act”) — issuing national priorities for AML and countering the financing of terrorism (“CFT”), and issuing an assessment on potential “no-action” letters. Both of these publications were due on June 30, 2021. This development prompted us…
Assessment Gives “Thumbs Up” to No-Action Letters but Notes Logistical Challenges
As required by the Anti-Money Laundering Act (“AML Act”), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued on June 30, 2021 its 14-page assessment regarding the feasibility of FinCEN issuing so-called “no-action” letters to financial institutions (the “Assessment”). FinCEN issued this Assessment on the same day that it issued the first government-wide list of national priorities for anti-money laundering (“AML”) and countering the financing of terrorism (“CFT”), as we have blogged. In arguable contrast to the AML priorities, FinCEN’s Assessment is full of specific, concrete details and offers interesting insights into how no-action letters may (or may not) work in practice.
Ultimately, the Assessment posits that no-action letters are a desirable step, but that practical challenges remain – including sufficient funding for FinCEN. According to the Assessment, no-action letters will be the subject of future regulations promulgated by FinCEN. Although the details of a no-action letter process will be a debated topic, the Assessment gives reassurance that FinCEN takes the issue seriously and that no-action letters likely will occur in some form.…
Continue Reading FinCEN Issues Assessment on Possible “No-Action” Letters for Industry
Today, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued a press release, announcing leadership additions to FinCEN. This post merely repeats that press release, without further comment or analysis — other than to make the obvious observation that we wish both of these new appointees well, and that the appointment of Ms. Korver in particular…