We previously blogged about the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (“FinCEN’s”) issuance on June 30 of the first government-wide list of priorities for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (“AML/CFT”) (the “Priorities”), as required by the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AML Act”). The eight-item list was a “greatest hits” rundown of
Broker-Dealers Fail SEC AML Examinations
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.
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Investment Advisers May Be Subject to AML Regulations Under Revival of Proposed Rule
Bottom Line: Biden Administration May Revive FinCEN’s Proposed Rule For Investment Advisers
Unlike broker-dealers, investment advisers are not currently required to maintain anti-money laundering (“AML”)/counter-terrorist financing (“CTF”) compliance programs under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), or file Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”). In 2015, during President Obama’s second term, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) proposed exactly such a rule for certain investment advisers. Although FinCEN then never moved forward, the stars may be aligning for the implementation of a similar rule in the new Biden Administration.
Industry watchdog groups will push for this. For example, after Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, the independent Financial Accountability & Corporate Transparency Coalition wrote a memorandum, asking him to “[f]inalize the proposed Obama-era rule requiring investment advisers to establish AML programs.” Action on this front also would be generally consistent with the 2020 Examination Priorities issued by the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE), which stated that the OCIE will prioritize examining broker-dealers “for compliance with their AML obligations in order to assess, among other things, whether firms have established appropriate customer identification programs and whether they are satisfying their SAR filing obligations, conducting due diligence on customers, complying with beneficial ownership requirements, and conducting robust and timely independent tests of their AML programs.” Moreover, the FBI’s concern over money laundering through private equity and hedge funds may increase the likelihood of the administration reviving some version of the 2015 proposed rule. A leaked FBI Intelligence Bulletin from May 2020 stated that “threat actors[, or money launderers,] likely use the private placement of funds, including investments offered by hedge funds and private equity firms, to launder money, circumventing traditional” AML protections in place at other financial institutions already subject to such regulations. According to its Intelligence Bulletin, the FBI made this assessment in “high confidence.”…
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FinCEN Stresses Transparency, BSA Filing Data, and Perils of “Under- Regulating” to Securities Industry
Last Thursday, FinCEN Deputy Director Jamal El-Hindi appeared at the 20th annual Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Financial Crimes Conference hosted by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) in New York City. His prepared remarks covered three main topics at the intersection of the securities industry and FinCEN’s enforcement goals: (i) AML compliance trends and current challenges; (ii) the value of Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) filing data; and (iii) the current regulatory landscape.
El-Hindi not surprisingly stressed transparency and information sharing, the value of BSA reporting data, and the need for legislation regarding the collection of beneficial ownership at the corporate formation stage. El-Hindi also suggested – perhaps without the complete agreement of his audience – that regulators tend to under-regulate, rather than over-regulate. He stated: “But in an area such as ours where we have developed a strong partnership with industry and where we believe that you are just as vested in our mission to thwart bad actors as we are, it is important for us to use our authorities fully.”
His remarks are particularly relevant given the 2020 Examination Priorities recently issued by the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE), which states that the OCIE will prioritize examining broker-dealers and investment companies “for compliance with their AML obligations in order to assess, among other things, whether firms have established appropriate customer identification programs and whether they are satisfying their SAR filing obligations, conducting due diligence on customers, complying with beneficial ownership requirements, and conducting robust and timely independent tests of their AML programs.”…
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SEC Sanctions Broker-Dealer, Clearing Firm and Chief Compliance Officer for AML Violations
On May 16, 2018, the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced it had settled charges against a registered broker-dealer, its clearing firm, and its chief compliance and anti-money laundering (“AML”) officer brought over the firm’s failure to file Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) related to customers’ liquidation of billions of penny stocks over an eight month period. In a companion action, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) imposed a monetary penalty against the clearing firm for various AML compliance failures.
Chardan Capital Markets, LLC (“Chardan”) was a registered broker-dealer primarily engaged in underwriting private investment in public equity (“PIPEs”), private placements and initial public offerings (“IPOs”). In 2013, Chardan allegedly began actively engaging in the liquidation of thinly-traded penny stocks of microcap issuers. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Financial Services, LLC (“ICBCFS”) is a registered broker-dealer that, in late 2012, began clearing equity securities and, from October 2013 through June 2014, cleared Chardan’s customers’ penny-stock transactions.
We previously have blogged about the SEC and FINRA stepping up their AML-related enforcement, as well as the issue of AML-related individual liability for compliance officers and executives (see here, here, here, here and here). Aside from reaffirming the dubious nature of penny stock trading, this case once again reflects the need to actually act on identified red flags and file related SARs.
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Continued Individual Liability Under the Bank Secrecy Act: The SEC Targets Two AML Compliance Officers and One CEO for Alleged AML/BSA Violations
Two Have Settled, but One AML CO Will Contest the Case
A recent anti-money laundering (“AML”) enforcement action reminds us of the increasing risk of individual liability for alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), a key issue about which we have blogged.
Specifically, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) announced last week that Aegis Capital Corporation (“Aegis”), a New York-based brokerage firm, admitted that it failed to file Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) on numerous transactions. Although most of the attention regarding this enforcement action has focused on Aegis, the more interesting development here is the role of individuals — particularly a contested action filed against a former AML compliance officer who has declined to settle and who apparently is proceeding to trial on these allegations before a SEC Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). This should be a litigation to watch.
Continue Reading Continued Individual Liability Under the Bank Secrecy Act: The SEC Targets Two AML Compliance Officers and One CEO for Alleged AML/BSA Violations
SEC: Broker-Dealer Maintained AML Compliance Plan in Name Only
On June 5, the SEC filed suit against Salt Lake City-based Alpine Securities, Corp. (“Alpine”). The complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, alleges that the broker-dealer ran afoul of AML rules by “routinely and systematically” (i) failing to file Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) for stock transactions it had flagged as suspicious or,…