Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

The Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) has re-rated the U.S. as “largely compliant” with FATF’s Recommendation 24, which pertains to transparency related to beneficial ownership of legal persons.  Specifically, FATF released its seventh Enhanced Follow-Up Report (the “Report”) indicating that the improved re-rating was due, in part, to the implementation of the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) as well as the Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”) Rule, which requires covered financial institutions to obtain beneficial ownership information (“BOI”) from designated entity customers opening up accounts.

FATF is an independent, inter-governmental body that develops global policies related to anti-money laundering, terrorist financing, and related crimes. As a member of FATF, the U.S. is subject to evaluations of its technical compliance with the various FATF recommendations. FATF’s lengthy Mutual Evaluation Report for the U.S. (“MER”), issued in December 2016, had identified the U.S. as “deficient” and subject to enhanced follow-up in regards to Recommendation 24.

In a press release, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen remarked that the re-rating was a result of the past decade of work by the Treasury Department and its interagency partners, and indicated Treasury’s commitment to “strengthening the implementation of the FATF’s global standards.”  As we have blogged, the U.S. has been subject to global criticism for years because it has been perceived as a haven for money laundering and tax evasion.

Continue Reading  FATF Re-Rates United States as “Largely Compliant” with Beneficial Ownership Recommendation

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

The Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) Plenary was held on February 22-24, bringing together delegates from around the world to meet in Paris and discuss a variety of global financial crimes and ongoing risk areas. In a historic move, FATF decided to suspend the Russian Federation from membership in the intergovernmental organization, based upon its actions in Ukraine over the past year. We will discuss that decision, as well as the other major outcomes of the Plenary, which involve beneficial ownership, virtual assets, ransomware, the art and antiquities market, and changes to FATF’s so-called “grey list.”

Continue Reading  FATF Plenary Suspends Membership of Russian Federation and Reiterates Other Strategic Initiatives

We previously blogged on an advisory issued by FinCEN alerting financial institutions to the various financial mechanisms used by traffickers of fentanyl and synthetic opioids to launder the burgeoning proceeds of their illicit activities. In the years since, the volume of that drug trade has only increased, as tragically evidenced in part by the skyrocketing rate of fentanyl-related deaths per year – in the U.S. alone, rising from around 28,000 to almost 70,000 in the past five years.

Recognizing this as a global concern requiring transnational solutions to address it, on November 30 the Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”), an intergovernmental organization comprised of 38 national members and two regional organizations (the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council), released a report, coordinated by the U.S. and Canada, on money laundering stemming from trade in fentanyl and synthetic opioids, with specific recommendations for counteracting the cash flow of the groups engaged in this activity.

The report attempts to focus greater attention on the transnational aspect of the global fentanyl trade. It notes that the trade is fueled by organized crime groups which are able to utilize a high level of sophistication both in the acquisition of drugs for sale and distribution, and in the subsequent laundering of proceeds.

Continue Reading  Countering Financial Flows From the Illicit Trade in Fentanyl and Synthetic Opioids

Today we are very pleased to welcome, once again, guest blogger Dr. Kateryna Boguslavska of the Basel Institute on Governance (“Basel Institute”), who will discuss the Basel Institute’s recent release of the Basel AML Index for 2022 (the “Index”). The data-rich annual Index is a research-based ranking that assesses countries’ risk exposure to money laundering and terrorist financing. It is one of several excellent online tools developed by the Basel Institute to help both public- and private-sector practitioners tackle financial crime.  We are excited to continue this annual dialogue between the Basel Institute and Money Laundering Watch.

Established in 2003, the Basel Institute, an Associated Institute of the University of Basel, is a not-for-profit Swiss foundation dedicated to working with public and private partners around the world to prevent and combat corruption. The Institute’s work involves action, advice and research on issues including anti-corruption collective action, asset recovery, corporate governance and compliance, and more.

Dr. Kateryna Boguslavska is Project Manager for the Basel AML Index at the Basel Institute. A political scientist, she holds a PhD in Political Science from the National Academy of Science in Ukraine, a master’s degree in Comparative and International Studies from ETH Zurich as well as a master’s degree in Political Science from the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Ukraine. Before joining the Basel Institute, Dr. Boguslavska worked at Chatham House in London as an Academy Fellow for the Russia and Eurasia program.

This blog post again takes the form of a Q & A session, in which Dr. Boguslavska responds to several questions posed by Money Laundering Watch about the Basel AML Index 2022. We hope you enjoy this discussion of global money laundering risks — which addresses enforcement, virtual assets, environmental crime, AML for lawyers, how the U.S. is performing, and more.  –Peter Hardy

Continue Reading  The Basel AML Index 2022: One Step Forward, Four Steps Back. A Guest Blog.

As we have repeatedly blogged, concerns about perceived anti-money laundering (“AML”) risks in the real estate industry are rising globally.  Consistent with this concern, the Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) has updated its AML guidance for the real estate sector in a document entitled “Guidance for a Risk-Based Approach: Real Estate Sector,” (“FATF Guidance” or “the Updated Guidance”).  The FATF Guidance urges a variety of players in the real estate industry to adopt a risk-based approach (“RBA”) to mitigate AML risks and sets forth some high-level recommendations.  The Updated Guidance notably coincides with FinCEN’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to impose reporting and perhaps other requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) for persons involved in real estate transactions to collect, report, and retain information, and the  recent extension of Geographic Targeting Orders for U.S. title insurance companies.

The FATF Guidance appears to be driven, at least in part, by FATF assessments showing that the real estate sector has high AML risks, which industry players often fail to appreciate and/or mitigate.  The Updated Guidance explains how various industry players can use an RBA to mitigate those risks.  It identifies sector-specific risks, sets forth strategies for assessing and managing those risks, and describes challenges the industry faces in doing so.  The FATF also offers specific guidance for “private sector players” and “supervisors” (e.g., countries and self-regulatory boards) for going forward.  The Updated Guidance includes tools, case studies, and examples of both private sector and supervisory practices to show real estate supervisors and practitioners how to implement FATF standards in an adequate, risk-based and effective manner.

The FATF is an inter-governmental policymaking body dedicated to creating AML standards and promoting effective measures to combat money laundering (“ML”) and terrorist financing (“TF”).  The FATF issued the Updated Guidance with input from the private sector, including from a public consultation with thirteen private-sector representatives (including from sector specific professional associations, the legal profession, FinTech providers, and non-profit organizations) in March and April 2022.  This consultation urged FinCEN, among other things, to provide greater clarity in the Updated Guidance regarding its applicability to the real estate sector and related professions (such as lawyers, notaries, and financial institutions) and extend FATF recommendations to broader real estate activities (such as property development and leasing).

Continue Reading  FATF Updates Risk-Based Approach Guidance for the Real Estate Sector

Report Focuses on Travel Rule Implementation – or Lack Thereof

The Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) recently issued an updated review of the implementation of its anti-money laundering (“AML”) and counter-terrorist financing (“CFT”) standards to financial activities involving Virtual Assets (VAs) and Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs), entitled Targeted Update On Implementation Of The FATF Standards On Virtual Assets And Virtual Asset Service Providers (“Report”). 

This post highlights the three main takeaways from the Report – with a focus on the FATF’s Travel Rule.  Condensed, the FATF Travel Rule requires the private sector to obtain and exchange beneficiary and originator information with VAs transfers valued at $1,000 or more. The Report also suggests that some DeFi arrangements are not truly “decentralized.”

Continue Reading  FATF Issues Targeted Update Report on Implementation of AML/CFT Standards on Virtual Assets

On December 14, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued a request for information (“RFI”), seeking comment on ways to “streamline, modernize, and update” the anti-money laundering (“AML”) and counter-terrorism financing (“CTF”) regime of the United States.  As we will discuss, the RFI is the latest development in a protracted inquiry into how to try to leverage technology in order to maximize the usefulness to the government of Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) reporting and record-keeping, and minimize the compliance costs imposed on industry.  However, as we also discuss, the RFI may add fuel to ongoing efforts to expand the coverage and reporting requirements of BSA regulations.
Continue Reading  FinCEN Seeks Comments on Modernizing the AML/CFT Regime

Global environmental crime—the third largest illicit activity in the world, according to a report by the FATF—is estimated to generate hundreds of billions in illicit proceeds annually.  This criminal activity harms human health, the climate, and natural resources.  To help address the threat presented by environmental crimes, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an environmental crimes and associated illicit financial activity notice (Notice) on November 18, 2021.  The FinCEN Notice states that environmental crime and related illicit financial activity are associated strongly with corruption and transnational criminal organizations, both of which FinCEN has identified as national anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) priorities for financial institutions to detect and report.

We have blogged with increasing frequency (see here, here, here and here) on the nexus between environmental crime and illicit financial flows, and how these money laundering risks are often overlooked and are especially difficult for financial institutions to monitor.  Environmental offenses are also receiving more attention in the U.S., in part because of the growing interest by investors, companies and regulators in ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) concerns.

The Notice includes an appendix that describes five categories of environmental crimes and the illicit financial activity related to them: wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, illegal fishing, illegal mining, and waste and hazardous substances trafficking.  The Notice also includes new suspicious activity report (SAR) filing instructions in order to enhance analysis and reporting of illicit financial flows related to environmental crime.
Continue Reading  FinCEN Issues Notice on Environmental Crimes and Illicit Financial Activity

Travel Rule and Beneficiary Information Continues to Challenge Virtual Asset Service Providers

In late October, the Financial Action Task Force issued its long-awaited updated guidance on Virtual Assets and Virtual Asset Service Providers (“FATF Guidance”), an extremely lengthy and detailed document setting forth how virtual asset service providers (“VASPs”) and related virtual asset activities fall within the scope of FATF standards for anti-money laundering (“AML”) and countering the financing of terrorism (“CFT”).  The FATF Guidance is important to VASPs worldwide, as well as the more traditional financial institutions (“FIs”) doing business with them.  Because of its great breadth, we focus here only on its comments regarding implementation of the so-called “Travel Rule” for virtual assets.  This portion of the FATF Guidance is particularly relevant to the U.S. because, as we have blogged, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) proposed regulations in 2020 – still pending – which would change the Travel Rule by lowering the monetary threshold for FIs from $3,000 to $250 for collecting, retaining, and transmitting information related to international funds transfers, and explicitly would make the Travel Rule apply to transfers involving convertible virtual currencies.

The FATF Guidance has additional relevance to U.S. VASPs and FIs because, this month, the U.S. President’s Working Group on Financial Markets (“PWG”), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”), and the Office of the Comptroller (“OCC”) (together, “the U.S. Agencies”) issued a Report on Stablecoins (the “Report”).  Stablecoins are digital assets designed to maintain stable value as related to other reference assets, such as the U.S. Dollar.  In the Report, the U.S. Agencies delineate perceived risks associated with the increased use of stablecoins and highlight three types of concerns: risks to rules governing AML compliance, risks to market integrity, and general prudential risks.  We of course will focus here on the Report’s discussion of AML risks, particularly because it repeatedly invokes the FATF Guidance, thereby illustrating the increasing efforts by governments to seek a global and relatively coordinated approach to addressing AML/CFT concerns regarding virtual assets.
Continue Reading  Global Developments in AML and Virtual Assets:  FATF Guidance and the Travel Rule, and U.S. Pronouncements on Stablecoins