But Five Justices Express Deep Concern as to Civil Forfeiture Regimes

On May 9, in Culley et al. v. Marshall, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not require a preliminary hearing in civil forfeiture cases involving personal property for claimants to raise the “innocent owner” defense. Rather, the Court ruled that a “timely” forfeiture hearing affords claimants due process and that no separate preliminary hearing is constitutionally required. Although Culley arose under Alabama law, it has direct consequences for the forfeiture laws of many states, as well as federal civil forfeiture proceedings, in which claimants can raise the innocent owner defense.

It is important to remember that Culley involves personal property: as the Court noted, existing Supreme Court law allows States to immediately seize personal property (i.e., cars, currency, art, jewelry, etc.) subject to civil forfeiture if the property otherwise could be removed, destroyed, or concealed before a forfeiture hearing. Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U. S. 663, 679–680 (1974). In contrast, existing Supreme Court law provides that States ordinarily may not seize real property (i.e., land and structures) before providing notice and a hearing. United States v. James Daniel Good Real Property, 510 U. S. 43, 62 (1993). Moreover, States and Congress of course still can craft statutes which afford protections beyond the bare minimum required by the Constitution.

Finally, and more importantly, the dissenting and concurring opinions make clear that the legal and social debates over civil forfeiture practices, and their potential abuse, are far from over.

Continue Reading  Supreme Court:  Innocent Owners of Forfeited Personal Property Must Wait

We previously have blogged on actions taken by the DOJ’s “Task Force KleptoCapture,” an interagency law enforcement task force with a mandate to target sanctioned Russian and pro-Russian oligarchs. While explicitly launched in May 2022 as a direct response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the task force’s mission is consistent with the U.S. government’s characterization of Russia as a kleptocratic regime (see our post here) and the Biden Administration’s promotion of anti-corruption as a “core United States national security interest” (see our posts here and here).

This week, DOJ announced (via both a press release and a filmed podium announcement by Attorney General Merrick Garland) a series of enforcement actions in five separate federal cases in districts up and down the East Coast, dealing with money laundering and evasion of sanctions, in several cases centered on quintessentially oligarchic luxury goods: high-end real estate and superyachts.  The enforcement actions also emphasize the continuing themes in these cases of the use of shell companies, proxies and lawyers to allegedly evade sanctions.

Continue Reading  The American Front in Russia’s War on Ukraine: DOJ’s “Task Force KleptoCapture” Continues Focus on Operations of Sanctioned Oligarchs

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 release of the 12th annual Public Edition of the Basel AML Index (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 is a not-for-profit Swiss foundation dedicated to working with public and private partners around the world to prevent and combat corruption, and is an Associated Institute of the University of Basel. The Basel 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 12th Basel AML Index. We hope you enjoy this discussion of global money laundering risks — which addresses terrorist financing, de-risking, non-profits, forfeiture, emerging technologies, and more.  – Peter Hardy

Continue Reading  The Basel AML Index: Forfeiture, Non-Profits, Crypto, and More. A Guest Blog.

Couple Appears to Be Cooperating with DOJ

In February 2022, we blogged on the seizure of a record $3.6 billion in stolen Bitcoin (“BTC”) and an accompanying criminal complaint, charging husband and wife Ilya “Dutch” Lichtenstein and Heather “Razzlekhan” Morgan with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States.  Last week, the couple pleaded guilty, pursuant to plea agreements with the government, with sentencing to follow. 

As we discuss below, both of their plea agreements contemplate attempting to reduce their sentences via cooperation with the Department of Justice (“DOJ”).  As we also discuss, this case presents a cautionary tale for financial institutions and the need to not “tip off,” unwittingly or otherwise, the recipients of grand jury subpoenas.

Continue Reading  Crypto Couple Plead Guilty to Money Laundering Conspiracy

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.

First of Two Blog Posts in a Series Pertaining to Attorneys Convicted of Money Laundering

In February, we blogged on the indictment of Vladimir Voronchenko (“Voronchenko”) in the Southern District of New York (“SDNY”), who was charged in connection with a scheme to make payments to maintain multiple properties in New York and Florida owned by his friend and associate, sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg (“Vekselberg”).  The February indictment also contained allegations that Voronchenko had retained a then unnamed U.S.-based attorney to help carry out those alleged money laundering activities.

On April 25, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the SDNY announced that Robert Wise (“Wise”), a New York attorney, had pled guilty to a single count of conspiring to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.  The substantive offense that was the object of the conspiracy was 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2)(A), which criminalizes the act of transferring monetary instruments or funds into or outside of the United States with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity.  Interestingly, the superseding information charges Wise with violating the general criminal conspiracy statute, Section 371 (which carries a statutory maximum sentence of “only” five years), rather than violating the specific money laundering conspiracy provision, 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) (which carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years).  It is unclear whether Wise is cooperating with investigators.

In our next post, we will discuss the Fourth Circuit’s affirmation of attorney Kenneth Ravenell’s conviction at trial for money laundering conspiracy, in violation of Section 1956(h).

Continue Reading  New York Attorney Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Commit Money Laundering in Connection with Indicted Russian Oligarch

Enforcement Trends, Crypto, Regulatory Developments — and More

I am very pleased to co-chair again the Practicing Law Institute’s 2023 Anti-Money Laundering Conference on May 16, 2023, starting at 9 a.m. in New York City (the event also will be virtual). 

I am also really fortunate to be working with co-chair Elizabeth (Liz) Boison

On March 15, 2023, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York unsealed a twelve-count Indictment that charges Ho Wan Kwok (“Kwok”) and his financier, Kin Ming Je (“Je”), with various sprawling schemes – including one involving cryptocurrency – in which the defendants solicited investments in several entities and other programs via fraudulent misrepresentations to hundreds of thousands of Kwok’s online followers. Moreover, the Indictment alleges that Kwok and Je misappropriated hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulently obtained funds during the conspiracy.

Specifically, the Indictment charges Kwok with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering. He was also charged with the underlying acts of wire fraud, securities fraud, international “promotional” money laundering (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2)(A)), international “concealment” money laundering (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2)(B)(i)), and “spending” money laundering (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957), with the last charge resting on a single $100 million wire transfer. Je was also charged with these crimes, in addition to obstruction of justice.

In regards to the money laundering schemes, the Indictment alleges that the defendants attempted to conceal the source of their illicit proceeds by transferring “money into and through more than approximately 500 accounts held in the names of at least 80 different entities or individuals[,]” through bank accounts in the U.S., the Bahamas, and the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”).  Further, the Indictment alleges that the defendants used over $300 million of fraudulent proceeds for the benefit of themselves and their family members.  The Indictment therefore contains a detailed notice of forfeiture, listing numerous assets that allegedly constituted or were derived from proceeds traceable to the charged offenses.  These assets include numerous bank account balances collectively amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as a luxurious mansion in New Jersey, several extremely high-end automobiles, and a 46-meter “superyacht.”  The government’s press release includes photos of some of these assets, included in the visual above.

Continue Reading  Indictment Alleges Investor Fraud of Over $1 Billion – And Elaborate Money Laundering and Lavish Spending

Last month we blogged on an indictment in the Southern District of New York (“SDNY”) charging Vladimir Voronchenko (“Voronchenko”) with scheming to make payments to maintain multiple properties in New York and Florida owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg (“Vekselberg”), whom we had previously blogged about here.

Last Friday, the SDNY U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a follow-on civil forfeiture complaint (the “Forfeiture Complaint”) against the six properties at issue – one address in Southampton, NY; two units at 515 Park Avenue in Manhattan; and two addresses in Miami Beach (the “Subject Properties”). The Forfeiture Complaint seeks forfeiture of the Subject Properties on three bases: (a) as real property derived from proceeds traceable to violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”), various Executive Orders (13660-662 and 13685), and 31 C.F.R.§ 589.201 (which implemented those Executive Orders as part of a package of regulations promulgated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department (“OFAC”)); and (b) as real property involved in international money laundering to promote violations of the IEEPA, and (c) as assets of an entity involved in international money laundering to promote violations of the IEEPA.

Continue Reading  DOJ Seeks to “KleptoCapture” Sanctioned Russian Oligarch’s NYC and Miami Properties Via Forfeiture

Rodeo Drive

Indictment Alleges Use of Shell Companies, Nominees, Foreign Bank Accounts and Real Estate

On December 7, 2022, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York (“DOJ”) unsealed a seven-count indictment against Andrii Derkach.  In the corresponding press release, Derkach is described as a “Kremlin-backed Ukrainian politician and oligarch” who attempted to “influence the 2020 U.S. Presidential election on behalf of the Russian Intelligence Services.”  Derkach was charged with conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”), bank fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and four counts of money laundering.  His wife, Oksana Terekhova, is alleged to be a co-conspirator and is referred to as “Co-Conspirator 1” in the indictment.  The investigation was “coordinated through the Justice Department’s Task Force KleptoCapture, an interagency law enforcement task force dedicated to enforcing the sweeping sanctions, export controls, and economic countermeasures that the United States . . . has imposed in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine.”

In connection with the indictment, the DOJ is requesting both criminal forfeiture of two Beverly Hills condominiums at issue in the indictment, as well as civil forfeiture in a parallel proceeding.  If successful, the DOJ would seize both the condominiums and proceeds in an investment and banking account held by Derkach’s alleged business entity.  Derkach remains at large.

This appears to be another in the long line of actions and sanctions brought against alleged Russian oligarchs and Russian agents, especially those with close connections to Russian Intelligence Services, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (of which we have blogged about here and here).  As long as Russia remains active in Ukraine, it is likely that federal law enforcement will continue to focus on the actions and assets of high-profile Russian oligarchs and agents in the U.S.  Financial institutions should continue to remain vigilant, as we have blogged about here, in rooting out attempts to evade sanctions.

Continue Reading  Russian Agent’s Beverly Hills Condominiums Subject to Forfeiture Based on Alleged Violations of Bank Fraud, Money Laundering, and U.S. Sanctions Statutes