As we have blogged, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AMLA”) amended the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) to expand greatly the options for whistleblowers alleging anti-money laundering (“AML”) violations and potentially create a wave of litigation and government actions, similar to what has occurred in the wake of the creation of the Dodd-Frank whistleblower
Diana focuses her practice on complex commercial litigation, including the defense of financial institutions accused of having enabled alleged fraud schemes perpetrated by former customers against investors, consumers, and others. When litigating these cases, Diana assists in internal investigations and counsels clients on AML and BSA matters, including complicated issues relating to discovery and expert testimony.
On March 29, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) began to make good on its promise to make AML a key examination priority in 2021 by issuing a risk alert authored by the Division of Examinations (“EXAMS”) detailing the results of a review of broker-dealers’ compliance with anti-money laundering (“AML”) requirements (the “Alert”).
The Alert details the obligations of broker-dealers to comply with AML programs and SAR monitoring and reporting requirements pursuant to the “AML Program Rule,” 31 C.F.R. § 1023.210, and the “SAR Rule,” 31 C.F.R. § 1023.320, as well as similar obligations under Rule 17a-8 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), which incorporates the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) reporting and record-keeping obligations applicable to broker-dealers. The Alert further issues findings that indicate certain firms are experiencing shortcomings when it comes to establishing and implementing sufficient suspicious activity monitoring and reporting policies and procedures, which is leading to inadequate SAR reporting in several respects.
Perhaps not coincidentally, EXAMS issued the Alert shortly after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in December 2020 in SEC vs. Alpine Securities Corp. that the SEC has the authority to bring an enforcement action against broker-dealers under Section 17(a) and Rule 17a-8 of the Exchange Act on the basis of alleged BSA failures, including failures to comply with the SAR Rule. Whether the Alert is a true “heads up” or a forewarning of enforcement actions to come, firms are encouraged not to replicate the specific deficiencies identified in the Alert.…
Continue Reading Broker-Dealers Fail SEC AML Examinations
The AMLA Creates a Significant New Source of Risk for Financial Institutions
Second Blog Post in an Extended Series on Legislative Changes to the BSA/AML Regulatory Regime
As we have blogged, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (the “Act”) (part of the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”), passed on January 2, 2021), represents a historic overhaul of the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”). One of the most important changes – and certainly one that has attracted great attention by the media and commentators – is Section 6314 of the NDAA, entitled “Updating whistleblower incentives and protections.” The Act’s expanded whistleblower provision is modeled after the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistleblower provisions, and seeks to follow in Dodd-Frank’s footsteps. But, there are some key differences between the Act and Dodd-Frank. The Act also creates a more limited whistleblower program specifically pertaining to foreign corruption.
Aside from expanding the potential monetary rewards, the most significant aspect of the Act is that it explicitly invites internal compliance officers of financial institutions to use the information obtained through their compliance functions in order to pursue a whistleblower reward. This provision highlights the tension between individuals and institutions, and increases the pressure on financial institutions to comply with the law, take whistleblowers seriously, and be ready to deal with employees who purport to be whistleblowers but may be pursuing their own agenda. It also is a prudent time for financial institutions to review their internal complaint procedures and assess whether any changes are warranted given this new development.…
Continue Reading AMLA Adds Robust New Whistleblower Provisions for Anti-Money Laundering Violations
Farewell to 2020. Although it was an extremely difficult year, let’s still look back — because 2020 was yet another busy year in the world of money laundering and BSA/AML compliance.
We are highlighting 12 of our most-read blog posts from 2020, which address many of the key issues we’ve examined during the past year…
In the wake of the ongoing pandemic, various charities have been created with mission statements specific to COVID-19. What seems like an opportunity for giving back may present yet another vehicle for fraud to money launderers and other fraudsters.
To try to help weed out the legitimate from the not so innocent, on November 19, 2020, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a press release announcing a joint fact sheet (Fact Sheet), prepared in coordination with Federal Banking Agencies (defined below), “to provide clarity to banks on how to apply a risk-based approach to charities and other non-profit organizations (NPOs).” The press release and Fact Sheet seek to strike a balance between recognizing “the important role played by the charitable sector, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic” while reminding financial institutions to utilize the risk-based approach when conducting due diligence and developing risk profiles for charities and other NPOs.
This not the first time that the Treasury Department has raised concerns about charities, albeit in a different context: according to the Treasury Department’s reports on the 2020 National Strategy for Combatting Terrorist and other Illicit Financing and the 2018 National Terrorist Financing Risk Assessment, some charities and non-profit organizations (NPOs) “have been misused to facilitate terrorist financing.” And it is certainly not the first time that FinCEN has raised concerns about specific types of fraud fueled by the global pandemic (see here, here and here).…
Continue Reading COVID-19 & Philanthropic Fraud
Final Post in a Three-Post Series Regarding Recent Regulatory Action by FinCEN
On September 29, 2020, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) published a request for comment on existing regulations regarding enhanced due diligence (“EDD”) for correspondent bank accounts. The notice seeks to give the public an opportunity to comment on the existing regulatory requirements and burden estimates. Written comments must be received on or before November 30, 2020.
Currently, Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) regulations for due diligence and EDD for correspondent bank accounts require certain covered entities (banks, brokers or dealers in securities, futures, commission merchants, introducing brokers in commodities, and mutual funds) to establish due diligence programs that include risk-based, and, where necessary, enhanced policies, procedures, and controls reasonably designed to detect and report money laundering conducted through or involving any correspondent accounts established or maintained for foreign financial institutions. The regulations also require that these same financial institutions establish anti-money laundering (“AML”) programs “designed to detect and report money laundering conducted through or involving any private banking accounts established by the financial institutions.”
In issuing the request, FinCEN has not proposed any changes to the current regulations for correspondent or private banking. Instead, the request is intended to cover “a future expansion of the scope of the annual hourly burden and cost estimate associated with these regulations.”
This is the third and final post in a series of blogs regarding a recent flurry of regulatory activity by FinCEN. In our prior posts, we discussed a final rule by FinCEN extending BSA/AML regulatory requirements to banks lacking a Federal functional regulator, and FinCEN’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking as to potential regulatory amendments regarding “effective and reasonably designed” anti-money laundering (“AML”) programs. Unlike the first two regulatory actions discussed in our series, FinCEN’s request for comments on the burdens of correspondent bank account due diligence and EDD seems purely procedural: it simply asks covered institutions to report how much time and resources are spent on compliance. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to conclude that this request for comment is a prelude to some future, more substantive action regarding correspondent bank account regulation. The U.S. Department of Treasury identified correspondent banking as a “key vulnerability” for exploitation by illicit actors in its 2020 National Strategy for Combating Terrorist and Other Illicit Financing. Further, and as we will discuss, correspondent banking has long had a troubled status: such accounts are simultaneously necessary to the world economy but also regarded as higher risk from an AML perspective. As a real-world example, an alleged lack of diligence regarding the risks posed by correspondent bank accounts played a prominent role in the major alleged AML failures suffered by Westpac, Australia’s second-largest retail bank, which contributed to the bank recently agreeing to a whopping $1.3 billion penalty for violating Australia’s AML/CTF Act.
It may go too far to say things are looking up for Danske Bank, but the institution was handed a significant victory when the Southern District of New York dismissed an investor lawsuit on August 24, 2020. As we blogged about here, here, here, and here, Danske Bank has been the subject of significant regulatory oversight, which has resulted in a foreseeable onslaught of investor lawsuits.
One such class action securities suit was brought by purchasers of DB American Depository Receipts against Danske and its former officers and board members over alleged misrepresentations about the bank’s financial condition in light of the now well-known anti-money laundering (AML) deficiencies in its Estonia branch, as well as the subsequent fallout. The suit relies heavily on the September 19, 2018 Bruun & Jhejle investigative report, which outlined various internal whistleblower complaints about the Estonia branch’s AML controls that were confirmed by a published audit by the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority. Subsequent investigations followed, including by U.S. authorities, resulting in significant financial blows to the bank.
The Court found that the plaintiffs not only had failed to meet the heightened pleading requirements regarding mental state for securities fraud claims, but had not even alleged facts sufficient to allege a material misrepresentation. The decision reflects the potential difficulty of alleging (much less proving) a successful securities fraud claim based on alleged AML failures, particularly because it arises out of the globe’s largest and most notorious money laundering scandal.
FBI Highlights Feared AML Deficiencies in Combating Private Equity Money Laundering
Courtesy of a leaked internal Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) document, it’s now no secret that the FBI suspects that many investment vehicles, such as private equity firms and hedge funds, are widely utilized for money laundering. The FBI apparently compiled a January 2019 report titled “Financial Crime Threat Actors Very Likely Laundering Illicit Proceeds Through Fraudulent Hedge Funds and Private Equity Firms to Obfuscate Illicit Proceeds.” Now, a recently leaked May 1, 2020 internal FBI report similarly titled “Threat Actors Likely Use Private Investment Funds to Launder Money, Circumventing Regulatory Tripwires” (the “Report”) purports to supplement the January 2019 report “by providing recent reporting of hedge funds and private equity firms used to launder illicit proceeds, and expands the threat context beyond financial threat actors to include foreign adversaries.”
The Report does more than simply identify the financial threat posed by this type of money laundering; it uses some real-world examples to explain the process by which criminals are perceived to be infiltrating the global financial system using hedge funds and private equity firms, and how the current anti-money laundering (“AML”) regulatory regime is ill-equipped to stop them. It’s safe to say the FBI certainly did not intend for this play-by-play money laundering “how to” guide to go public. Investment advisors and firms should consider whether this leaked Report might add at least some momentum to the otherwise moribund (and controversial) effort by FinCEN in 2015 to propose regulations that would have made investment advisors subject to the requirement to create and maintain full AML programs under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”).…
Continue Reading Leaked FBI Report Reveals Private Equity Under Enhanced Money Laundering Scrutiny
Federal Register Notice Implicates Debate Over BSA Reporting Burden
As we have blogged (here, here, and here), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) consistently has stressed the importance of Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) and other Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) filing requirements to anti-money laundering (“AML”), counter-terrorism and law enforcement efforts. These vigorous pronouncements can be contrasted with certain critiques by industry groups and some commentators regarding the true operational value (or lack thereof) of BSA reporting requirements to law enforcement and financial institutions’ AML programs, particularly when compared to the overall costs associated with the current and rigorous regulatory regime. Lurking behind this debate is the possibility that some requirements of the BSA maybe reduced – or “reformed,” depending upon one’s perspective – through legislation. A recent regulatory filing by FinCEN illustrates this tension and ongoing debate.
On May 26, 2020, FinCEN issued a notice in the Federal Register (“Notice”) to renew the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) control numbers assigned to the SAR reporting regulations. The Notice is required in order to give the financial industry and affected stakeholders an opportunity to comment on existing regulatory requirements, as well as associated burdens. Although FinCEN has encouraged the industry to review the Notice and comment, it likely will not be surprised if at least some industry groups push back and criticize the associated estimates regarding burden. Regardless, the Notice provides interesting insights and statistics into current SAR reporting.…
Continue Reading FinCEN Seeks Industry Comments on SAR Reporting Burden and Provides Plentiful SAR Stats
Second Post in a Two-Post Series
On March 19, 2020, Swedbank received its first sanction at the conclusion of parallel investigations by Swedish and Estonian authorities for its role in the seemingly non-stop Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) debacle centered around Danske Bank and its now-notorious Estonian Branch. In the first of what will likely be multiple sanctions, Swedbank AB was ordered to pay a record 4 billion Swedish Krona ($38 million) and its subsidiary, Swedbank AS, has been ordered to improve its AML risk control systems to comply with applicable requirements.
In our first post, we discussed the various public AML-related investigations and enforcement actions plaguing Swedbank. In this post, we discuss the details and implication of the report of internal investigation regarding Swedbank’s alleged deficiencies in its AML processes performed by an outside law firm at the request of Swedbank, which has made the report publically available.
The Report is lengthy and detailed. As we discuss, however, the Report highlights some basic, evergreen issues in AML compliance and enforcement: the need to implement adequate systems to manage high-risk customers; the need to identify beneficial ownership; the need for top management to understand and truly respect AML compliance; the need for transparency with regulators; and the need for transparency by financial institutions with investors and the public.