Customer Due Diligence

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) has issued a notice entitled “FinCEN Calls Attention to Payroll Tax Evasion and Workers’ Compensation Fraud in the Construction Sector” (the “Notice”).  According to the Notice, “state and federal tax authorities [annually] lose hundreds of millions of dollars to these schemes, which are perpetrated by illicit actors primarily through banks and check cashers.”

The Notice describes these combined schemes as follows.  Individuals create a shell company whose sole purpose is to allow construction contractors to avoid paying workers’ compensation premiums as well as state and federal payroll taxes.  The operators of the shell company will take out a minimal workers’ compensation policy and “rent” or sell the policy to construction contractors that employ a much larger number of workers than the policy is designed to cover.  The insurance policy enables the shell company to apply for and receive official business registration status.  The shell company operators will include the business license and tax documents in the package “rented” to the contractors.  This is the insurance fraud aspect.  Although insurance fraud is a state and local crime, it easily can be charged federally through use of the mail and wire fraud statutes.  Mail and wire fraud also can serve as predicate offenses – more precisely, “Specified Unlawful Activities” – underlying federal money laundering charges.

Continue Reading  FinCEN Issues Notice on Payroll Tax Evasion and Workers’ Compensation Fraud in the Construction Industry

On July 31, 2023, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) published an alert outlining deficiencies the Division of Examinations has observed in broker-dealers’ (“BD”) compliance with anti-money laundering (“AML”) and countering terrorism financing (“CTF”) requirements.  While the alert addresses overarching compliance requirements for BDs, it focuses on deficiencies the Division of Examinations has observed with regard to independent testing of BDs’ AML programs, personnel training and identification and verification of customers and their beneficial owners.

The alert makes two over-arching observations.  First, BDs “did not appear to devote sufficient resources, including staffing, to AML compliance given the volume and risks of their business.”  Second, the “effectiveness of policies, procedures, and internal controls was reduced when firms did not implement those measures consistently.”  Emphasizing the key elements of an adequate AML program BDs must implement, the Alert then shifts its focus to independent testing and training and customer identification and customer due diligence.

Continue Reading  SEC Issues Alert Outlining Deficiencies in Broker-Dealers’ AML Compliance

As we have blogged repeatedly, there is a close nexus between money laundering and tax crimes.  The frequent connection between the two sets of offenses – and the potentially related methods of combatting them – is a topic that is receiving growing attention.  It is important for many reasons, including the increase in international cooperation and information sharing across countries and law enforcement agencies in regard to both sets of offenses.

We therefore are very pleased to welcome to Money Laundering Watch guest bloggers Emmanuel Mathias and Adrian Wardzynski, who have authored a well-received Working Paper, Leveraging Anti-Money Laundering Measures to Improve Tax Compliance and Help Mobilize Domestic Revenues as part of the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) publication series (“Working Paper”).

As we will discuss, the Working Paper advocates leveraging anti-money laundering (“AML”) measures to enhance tax compliance, tackle tax crimes, and help mobilize domestic revenues.

Emmanuel Mathias heads the Governance and Anti-Corruption division in the IMF’s Legal Department, where he oversees the IMF’s work on anti-corruption and the rule of law. He also worked extensively on AML issues. Prior to joining the IMF in 2005, Emmanuel served as a researcher in economics, was trained as a customs special agent, and worked for the French Financial Intelligence Unit. Emmanuel holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Paris – Pantheon Sorbonne. He graduated from the Institute of political studies of Strasbourg, and was admitted to the French national school of administration.

Adrian Wardzynski works in the Financial Integrity division in the IMF’s Legal Department. In his role as a Counsel he focuses on financial integrity issues relating to money laundering, tax crimes, and corruption. Before joining the IMF in 2021, Adrian was a Tax Policy Advisor at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He also worked on taxation of multinational enterprises and financial institutions in the private sector and Switzerland’s State Secretariat for International Finance. Adrian holds an LL.M. in Taxation from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences.

The IMF is a global organization which works to achieve sustainable growth and prosperity for all of its 190 member countries. It does so by supporting economic policies that promote financial stability and monetary cooperation, which are essential to increase productivity, job creation, and economic well-being To fulfill these missions, IMF member countries work collaboratively with each other and with other international bodies.

This blog post again takes the form of a Q & A session, in which Mr. Mathias and Mr. Wardzynski, in their personal capacities, respond to questions posed by Money Laundering Watch about the Report. We hope you enjoy this discussion of this important topic. – Peter Hardy and Siana Danch.

Continue Reading  Leveraging AML Measures to Combat Tax Crimes. A Guest Blog.

Without much fanfare, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) published in June its Spring 2023 Rulemaking Agenda, which provides proposed timelines for upcoming key rulemakings projected throughout the rest of 2023.  FinCEN continues to focus on issuing rulemakings required by the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (the “AML Act”) and the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”).  FinCEN has been criticized for being slow in issuing regulations under the AML Act and the CTA, but Congress has imposed many obligations upon FinCEN, which still is a relatively small organization with a limited budget.

Continue Reading  FinCEN Provides Key Updates on Rulemaking Agenda Timeline

The Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) takes effect on January 1, 2024.  On that date, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) needs to have implemented a working data base to accept millions of reports of beneficial ownership information (“BOI”) by newly-formed companies required to report BOI under the CTA, as well as reports by the even

On May 19, 2023 the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) released a joint supplemental alert (the “Supplemental Alert”) concerning Russian export control evasion attempts.  The supplemental alert adds to and refines the June 28, 2022 alert about which we previously blogged.

According to the Supplemental Alert, the sanctions imposed by the Global Export Control Coalition (“GECC”) in response to the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine has been successful in “significantly degrad[ing]” Russia’s “military-industrial complex and defense supply chains” and making it difficult to replace the estimated “10,000 pieces of equipment” that Russia has lost on the battlefield.  The Supplemental Alert cautions that Russia has tasked its “intelligence services with finding ways to circumvent sanctions and export controls to replace needed equipment.”

In response, the BIS has imposed additional export control restrictions on February 24, 2023 on items such as components for aircraft and tanks, semiconductors, and “low-technology consumer goods.”  BIS has extended these export control restrictions beyond Russia’s borders, to Iran and China.  BIS believes that Iran and China have “served as supply nodes to the Russian war machine.”  The Department of Justice and the Commerce Department also announced in February the creation of the Disruptive Technology Strike Force, which brings together experts from across government and across the nation to, among other things, “protect critical technological assets from being acquired or used by nation-state adversaries.”  This strike force is in addition to the now well-known Task Force KleptoCapture that was formed last year.

Continue Reading  FinCEN and BIS Issue Supplemental Joint Alert on Russian Export Control Evasion Attempts

On February 14, 2023, both the American Bankers Association (“ABA”) and the Bank Policy Institute (“BPI”) submitted comments to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) on FinCEN’s notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) relating to access to beneficial ownership information (“BOI”) reported to FinCEN under the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”). While both organizations had similar comments, mainly being that the proposed limits on FIs’ ability to use BOI retrieved from the database contradicts the CTA’s objective, the ABA recommended that FinCEN entirely withdraw the NPRM. Below, we break down each organization’s comments and strong critiques regarding the NPRM.

Continue Reading  Bank Industry Groups Heavily Criticize FinCEN’s Proposed Rule on Access to Beneficial Ownership Information

On January 25, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued an “Alert on Potential U.S. Commercial Real Estate Investments by Sanctioned Russian Elites, Oligarchs, and Their Proxies” (the “Alert”).  The Alert defines “commercial real estate,” which the Alert refers to as “CRE,” as “property that is used for investment or income-generating purposes rather than as a residence by the owner.”  The Alert “specifically highlights sanctions evasion-related vulnerabilities in the CRE sector and is based on a review of Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) reporting indicating that sanctioned Russian elites and their proxies may exploit them to evade sanctions.”

The Alert seeks to assist financial institutions with identifying potential sanctions evasion activity in the CRE sector by providing potential red flags and typologies related to this activity.  As we discuss, the Alert also may represent a step towards BSA regulations for the CRE sector.

Continue Reading  Russia Sanctions Evasion and Commercial Real Estate: An Alert

Form Repeatedly Invites Response of “Unknown” As to Critical Information

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) has issued a notice and request for comment (“Notice”) on the proposed form to collect and report to FinCEN the beneficial ownership information (“BOI”) for entities covered by the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”).  We have blogged extensively on the

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced (here and here) yesterday that virtual currency exchange Payward, Inc. – better known as Kraken – has agreed to pay $362,158.70 in order to settle its potential civil liability for apparent violations of the sanctions against Iran. Kraken also has agreed to invest an additional $100,000 in certain sanctions compliance controls.  According to OFAC, “[d]ue to Kraken’s failure to timely implement appropriate geolocation tools, including an automated internet protocol (IP) address blocking system, Kraken exported services to users who appeared to be in Iran when they engaged in virtual currency transactions on Kraken’s platform.” 

Compared to OFAC’s recent settlement with Bittrex, which agreed to pay a total of $29,280,829.20 to OFAC and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) in order to resolve allegations of sanctions and Bank Secrecy Act violations, the settlement amount is relatively low – and, as OFAC noted in its announcement, Kraken faced an astronomical statutory maximum civil monetary penalty of $272,228,964.  OFAC has stated that “[t]he settlement amount reflects OFAC’s determination that Kraken’s apparent violations were non-egregious and voluntarily self-disclosed.”

Continue Reading  Kraken Settlement Demonstrates Importance of Sanctions Monitoring for Transactions — Not Just When Onboarding Customers