Customer Due Diligence

On March 28, 2024, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), in consultation with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the National Credit Union Administration, and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, issued a request for information (RFI).

The RFI seeks information and comment regarding the

Years in the making, on February 13, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) to include “investment adviser” (“IA”) within the definition of “financial institution” under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”). FinCEN has posted a fact sheet on the NPRM here.

The NPRM subjects broad categories of IAs to statutory and regulatory anti-money laundering/countering terrorist financing (“AML/CTF”) compliance obligations. FinCEN is accepting comments on the NPRM until April 15, 2024.

Continue Reading  FinCEN Seeks to Make Investment Advisers Subject to Bank Secrecy Act

On March 1, Judge Liles C. Burke of the Northern District of Alabama issued a Memorandum Opinion (“Opinion”) and Final Judgment, finding that the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) is unconstitutional.  We blogged on this lawsuit when it was filed in November 2022.

The opening paragraph of the Opinion is worthy of repetition:

The late Justice Antonin Scalia once remarked that federal judges should have a rubber stamp that says STUPID BUT CONSTITUTIONAL. See Jennifer Senior, In Conversation: Antonin Scalia, New York Magazine, Oct. 4, 2013. The Constitution, in other words, does not allow judges to strike down a law merely because it is foolish, burdensome or offensive. Yet the inverse is also true—the wisdom of a policy is no guarantee of its constitutionality. Indeed, even in the pursuit of sensible and praiseworthy ends, Congress sometimes enacts smart laws that violate the Constitution. This case, which concerns the constitutionality of the Corporate Transparency Act, illustrates that principle.

Having set the tone, the Opinion proceeds to reject the government’s three arguments that Congress had the authority to enact the CTA under the following enumerated and broad powers:

1.         Congress’ ability to oversee foreign affairs and national security;

2.         Congress’ ability to regulate under the Commerce Clause; and

3.         Congress’ taxing power.

As we will discuss, the Opinion reaches its conclusions by generally taking a broad view of States’ autonomy and a narrow view of the ability of Congress to regulate primarily “local” activity in the name of protecting national security.  It also finds that Congress cannot regulate the act of incorporation alone, and that the CTA presumably could pass constitutional muster if it applied only when a reporting entity actually begins to engage in commercial activity.  The immediate, nationwide effects of the Opinion are hard to predict at this time, other than to observe simply that the Opinion will have significant impact, and that confusion will ensue.

Continue Reading  Federal District Court Ruling:  The CTA is Unconstitutional

Second of Three Posts in a Related Series on Recent AML and Money Laundering Prosecutions

The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has been very active in the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) / Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) space, as reflected by a recent series of individual prosecutions and corporate non-prosecution agreements (“NPAs”).  

In the first blog post in this series, we discussed a significant prosecution of an individual, and two related corporate NPAs, involving the gaming industry.  In our final post, we will discuss the prosecution and sentencing of a lawyer who allegedly became part of the fraud and money laundering scheme perpetrated by his crypto client.

In this second post, we will discuss two unusual prosecutions involving, respectively, an individual executive of a bank and an alleged AML specialist working with small financial institutions.  

As we previously noted, all of these cases, although all unique, are also united in certain ways – particularly in regards to the need for institutions and professionals to perform sufficient due diligence regarding the conduct and source of funds of high-risk clients and customers.

Continue Reading  Criminal Case Round-Up: Recent Prosecutions Involving Financial Institution Officers

First of Three Posts in a Related Series on Recent AML and Money Laundering Prosecutions

The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has been very active in the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) / Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) space, as reflected by a recent series of individual prosecutions and corporate non-prosecution agreements (“NPAs”). 

In this first blog post, we will discuss a significant prosecution of an individual, and two related corporate NPAs, involving the gaming industry

In the next related post, we will discuss two unusual prosecutions involving, respectively, an individual executive of a bank and an alleged AML specialist working with small financial institutions.  

In our final post, we will discuss the prosecution and sentencing of a lawyer who allegedly became part of the fraud and money laundering scheme perpetrated by his crypto client.

Although these cases are all unique and interesting in their own way, they are also all united in certain ways – particularly in regards to the need for institutions to perform sufficient due diligence regarding the conduct and source of funds of high- or higher-risk customers, and the related need for institutions to ensure that their own employees are not undermining the institutions’ AML compliance programs.

Continue Reading  Criminal Case Round-Up: Recent Prosecutions Involving Casinos

The beneficial ownership information (“BOI”) registry under the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) is now up and running at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”).  This post will follow up on a previous blog regarding the recently-published CTA BOI access regulations (the “Access Rule”).  As we will discuss, the Access Rule leaves open many important questions for financial institutions (“FIs”) covered by the CTA, as they await further proposed regulations from FinCEN regarding alignment of the CTA with the Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”) Rule.

The full federal register publication for the Access Rule is here.  It is 82 pages long.  We therefore have created this separate 13-page document, which is slightly more user-friendly, setting forth only the actual regulations (now published at 31 C.F.R. § 1010.955).

Continue Reading  Final CTA Access Rule Answers Some Questions, and Leaves Open Others

This morning, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued the much-anticipated final rule (“Final Rule”) under the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) regarding access to beneficial ownership information (“BOI”) reported to FinCEN.  These regulations could hardly have arrived any later than they did – the CTA becomes effective on January 1, 2024, although FinCEN recently extended the reporting deadline for companies created in 2024 to a period of 90 days from the date of creation

The access regulations initially proposed in December 2022 (see our blog post here) were complex; the Final Rule is as well, or more so.  Indeed, it is over 247 pages long, prior to its final publication version in the Federal Register.  Given the Final Rule’s length, we will analyze it in more detail in a future blog post. 

Today, we will describe the YouTube video contemporaneously released by FinCEN, which describes the Final Rule at a high level, and notes certain differences between it and the initially proposed regulations.  The headline here is that FinCEN has attempted to address certain criticisms raised by financial institutions regarding the initially proposed regulations and their access to BOI.  In the video, FinCEN Director Andrea Gacki observed that FinCEN still needs to propose regulations aligning the CTA with the existing Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”) Rule for banks and other financial institutions (“FIs”), which requires covered FIs to obtain BOI from designated entity customers.

This blog post is high-level and focuses only on the statements made during the video.  The details of the Final Rule still need to be parsed.  Also, FinCEN continued the information onslaught today by issuing an accompanying news release, fact sheet, statement for banks, and statement for non-bank financial institutions.

Continue Reading  FinCEN Issues Final CTA BOI Access Rules, Heralded by YouTube Video

A Huge Monetary Penalty for Sprawling Allegations – But Will Zhao Receive a Prison Sentence?

As the world now knows, Binance Holdings Limited, doing business as Binance.com (“Binance” or the “Company”), has entered into a plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”).  

Binance is registered in the Cayman Islands and regarded as the world’s largest virtual currency exchange. It agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to willfully violating the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) by failing to implement and maintain an effective anti-money laundering (“AML”) program; knowingly failing to register as a money services business (“MSB”); and willfully causing violations of U.S. economic sanctions issued pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”). Despite the plea agreement, Binance will continue to operate.

Changpeng Zhao, also known as “CZ,” also pleaded guilty to violating the BSA by failing to implement and maintain an effective AML program. Zhao is Binance’s primary founder, majority owner, and – until now – CEO. As part of his plea agreement, Zhao has stepped down as the CEO, although he apparently will keep his shares in Binance.

As part of its plea agreement, Binance has agreed to forfeit $2,510,650,588 and to pay a criminal fine of $1,805,475,575 for a total criminal penalty of $4,316,126,163. Binance also entered into related civil consent orders with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”), and the Office of Foreign Assets Controls (“OFAC”). Zhao also entered into a consent order with the CFTC.

The allegations are vast and detailed, and much digital ink already has been spilled regarding this matter. Our discussion therefore will be relatively high-level. Distilled, the government alleges that Binance – under the direction of Zhao – tried to hide the fact that it operated in the U.S., purposefully avoided any meaningful AML compliance, and consequently laundered many millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency involving extremely serious criminal conduct, including terrorism, child pornography, and U.S. sanctions evasion.

As for Zhao, and as we will discuss, whether he will go to prison – and if so, for how long – is an open and very interesting question. His sentencing currently is scheduled for February 23, 2024.

Continue Reading  Binance Settles Criminal and Civil AML and Sanctions Enforcement Actions for Multiple Billions – While its Founder, Owner and Former CEO Zhao Pleads Guilty to Single AML Crime

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) recently issued Joint Notice FIN-2023-NTC2, “Announnc[ing] New Reporting Key Term and Highlight[ing] Red Flags Relating to Global Evasion of U.S. Export Controls” (the “Joint Notice”). As we have blogged (here and here), these agencies issued two prior joint alerts warning financial institutions (“FIs”) about efforts by individuals or entities to evade Russia-related export controls administered by BIS.

The practical import of the Joint Notice – which re-emphasizes the focus of the U.S. government on fighting sanctions evasion – is that many customers involved in international trade should be subject to some degree of enhanced due diligence by FIs, simply because they participate in international trade.  FIs should review and adjust their risk assessments accordingly.

Continue Reading  FinCEN and BIS Issue Joint Notice on SAR Filings for Evasion of U.S. Export Controls

On August 8, 2023, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly (216–102) to pass Revised Resolution 100 (the “Resolution”), which in turn revised ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.16 and its Comments (the “Rule”) to explicitly recognize a lawyer’s duty to assess the facts and circumstances of a representation at the time the lawyer is engaged and throughout the representation to ensure that the lawyer’s services are not used to “commit or further a crime or fraud.”

The Comments to the Rule clearly illustrate that the ABA is concerned with the use of a lawyer’s services to—wittingly or unwittingly—assist clients in laundering money.  The Resolution itself acknowledges this, stating “the impetus for these proposed amendments was lawyers’ unwitting involvement in or failure to pay appropriate attention to signs or warnings of danger . . . relating to a client’s use of a lawyer’s services to facilitate possible money laundering and terrorist financing activities.”  And the ABA’s press release echoes this concern, noting the Rule was revised “because of concern that lawyers’ services can be used for money laundering and other criminal and fraudulent activity.”

Continue Reading  American Bar Association Revises Model Rule of Professional Conduct to Combat Money Laundering