The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the unsealing of a superseding indictment charging Jennifer Shah and another person for conspiring to commit wire fraud and money laundering. Shah, described in promotional materials as having an “extravagant personality and sharp tongue,” is a star on the reality television series The
DOJ Charges a U.S. Billionaire, an Alleged International Drug Conspiracy Using Chinese Bank Accounts and a Guatemalan Casino, and a Former Top Mexican Official in the “War on Drugs”
The term “October Surprise” garnered new meaning this year among money laundering enthusiasts with the announcement of three major indictments. All three announcements came on October 15 – at the midpoint of a month of news cycles otherwise dominated by the upcoming United States presidential election. Although these three indictments are all very different from one another in many ways, they all share a core element: the cross-border transfer of allegedly dirty money.
“Largest Ever U.S. Criminal Tax Charge” Bring Money Laundering Charges as Well
The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) unsealed a 39-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in San Francisco, California, charging billionaire Robert T. Brockman, the Chief Executive Officer of Ohio-based software company Reynolds & Reynolds, with conspiring to defraud the United States, tax evasion, wire fraud, money laundering, failing to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBARs”), evidence tampering and destruction of evidence. The charges involve an alleged scheme to conceal approximately $2 billion in income from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), which law enforcement officials have said is the largest ever tax charge in the United States. The wire fraud charges do not attempt to “bootstrap” the false tax returns at the heart of the tax evasion scheme into a wire fraud scheme, but rather rest on an alleged scheme to defraud investors in the software company’s debt securities. Still, Brockman’s indictment is yet another example of the potentially powerful overlap of money laundering and tax fraud charges, both of which often implicate the issue of beneficial ownership and the use of shell companies.
Continue Reading Criminal Enforcement Round Up: October Yields a Trio of High-Profile Money Laundering Charges With International Focus
The Cayman Islands Receive “Top Honors.” But, Global Financial Transparency is Reportedly Improving in General
The United States has overtaken Switzerland as a financial secrecy haven, according to the latest rankings – the Financial Secrecy Index 2020 (“2020 Index”) – issued by the Tax Justice Network (“TJN”), which describes itself in part as an independent international network conducting research, analysis and advocacy on international tax and financial regulation and the impact of tax evasion and avoidance. According to the 2020 Index, the U.S. now has the dubious distinction of holding second place in these rankings, having “lost” only to the Cayman Islands for first place.
As always, such reports and rankings, which purport to present incredibly complex and fluid systems as neatly distilled rankings, based on numerical factors presented with seeming objective precision, must be taken with a grain of salt. Invariably, they simplify issues and reflect implicit, subjective and potentially biased judgments. Nonetheless, the 2020 Index represents the latest in a string of international pronouncements turning an uncomfortable spotlight on the U.S., which (as we have blogged here, here and here) appears to be increasingly viewed by the rest of the world as a (hypocritical) haven for money laundering and tax evasion. Switzerland may regard having been “trumped” by the U.S. in these rankings with a bit of irony and schadenfreud, given the lengthy campaign by the U.S. to battle Switzerland’s banking and tax secrecy laws and customs, including many prosecutions by the U.S. involving undisclosed offshore accounts held by U.S. taxpayers in Switzerland (and elsewhere). Certainly, the 2020 Index highlights the substantial intersection between money laundering and tax evasion, both of which thrive in environments where anonymous shell companies may proliferate.
Continue Reading United States “Beats” Switzerland as a Perceived Global Haven for Money Laundering and Tax Evasion
DOJ Targets Professional Enablers of Alleged Tax and Laundering Schemes
On December 4, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York unsealed an elaborate indictment charging three professionals — a lawyer, an asset manager, and an accountant — along with a client in connection with an alleged tax evasion scheme arising out of the international Panama Papers scandal. At the heart of the Panama Papers story is the former Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca, which had been a key offshore legal services provider until April 2016, when it became the center of a massive global controversy because approximately 11.5 million of the firm’s internal legal and financial documents were leaked to the media. These leaked documents – publicized primarily by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (“ICIJ”) – allegedly reveal a global system of undisclosed offshore accounts, money laundering and tax evasion, and how the rich and powerful around the world use shell companies to conceal assets and possible illegal activity.
The indictment and accompanying government press release stress the potentially pernicious role which professionals can play in facilitating criminal money laundering and tax schemes, as well as the role played by foreign shell companies in masking beneficial ownership. However, this indictment ultimately describes a scheme to evade taxes and hide assets. It does not allege that any of the assets were the proceeds of a separate crime, other than the tax scheme itself. Although the indictment charges a single count of conspiracy to launder money, it relies on the “international” money laundering provision, which does not require that the relevant financial transactions involve the proceeds of underlying criminality, so long as the transactions are designed to promote a criminal scheme.
In this post, we will focus solely on two of the many issues presented by the indictment: (i) the indictment “bootstraps” what are basically general tax fraud allegations into wire fraud and money laundering charges (thereby enabling the government to pursue higher statutory maximums, higher potential sentences, and criminal forfeiture, which the government would be unable to obtain through “pure” tax fraud charges), and (ii) the indictment serves as another reminder to defense lawyers of the potential consequences of presenting a client’s purportedly exculpating factual representations to the government during an investigation.
Continue Reading First U.S. Indictment Relating to Panama Papers Charges Lawyer, Asset Manager, Accountant and Client
Superseding Indictment Alleges an International Web of Tax and Money Laundering Schemes, Facilitated by Professionals and Pierced by an Undercover Agent
The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has secured its first conviction ever under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, through the guilty plea of Adrian Baron, a former executive of Loyal Bank Ltd., a bank with offices in Budapest, Hungary and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
FATCA, passed in 2010, generally requires that foreign financial institutions identify their U.S. customers and report information on the foreign assets held by their U.S. account holders, either directly or through a foreign entity, or be subject to withholding payments. FATCA has become an important tool in the government’s ability to collect information and pursue its enforcement campaign against U.S. taxpayers with undeclared offshore assets. Now, FATCA has demonstrated its utility in enforcing U.S. law against foreign bankers who allegedly may be complicit in attempting to assist U.S. taxpayers hide their assets.
Baron, a citizen of the U.K. and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines who was extradited from Hungary, had been charged in a very detailed Superseding Indictment with assisting an undercover law enforcement agent with attempting to hide the supposed proceeds of fraudulent stock schemes in foreign corporate bank accounts which the undercover agent could control but which could not be traced to him, and which he could use to pay future kickbacks to U.S. brokers involved in other supposed schemes. The Superseding Indictment also charges Loyal Bank itself; a now-insolvent broker-dealer and investment management company located in London, U.K., Beaufort Securities Ltd.; and six individuals, including Baron.
Because the primary goal of FATCA, which we describe in more detail herein, is to deter the direct or indirect use of foreign accounts to facilitate the commission of U.S. tax offenses, it also has a potentially strong and related role in deterring potential money laundering offenses, given the role of foreign shell companies in masking beneficial ownership. Indeed, Baron’s co-defendant, Arvinsingh Canaye, who previously worked as the general manager of Beaufort Management Services Ltd., an entity related to Beaufort Securities but located in Ebene, Mauritius, pleaded guilty on July 26, 2018 to a related charge of conspiring to launder money. This case also highlights once again the potentially pernicious role which professionals can play in facilitating criminal schemes.
Professional Banker Described as “Door Opener” for Private Banking Clients and Alleged Co-Conspirators
As we have blogged, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida is pursuing charges against eight individuals for allegedly conspiring to launder $1.2 billion embezzled from a Venezuelan state-owned oil company and other unlawfully-derived funds. On August 22, 2018, Matthias Krull, the first of those co-defendants, pled guilty for his role in the charged conspiracy. Krull, a German national and former high-ranking executive at Swiss bank Julius Baer who was based in Panama at the time of the alleged scheme, faces up to 10 years in prison according to the terms of the Plea Agreement but, due to his potential cooperation with authorities as reflected by paragraphs 10 to 12 of the Plea Agreement, may serve less. The conduct of Krull illustrates the potentially key role of professionals in elaborate money laundering schemes.
Continue Reading Update: First Defendant Pleads and Agrees to Cooperate in $1.2 Billion Alleged Venezuelan Laundering Scheme
Complaint Describes an Elaborate Money Laundering Cocktail of Venezuelan Oil, Shell Companies, Currency Exchange Rate Manipulation, Undercover Recordings, Offshore Accounts and Miami High-End Real Estate
On July 24, 2018, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida unsealed a criminal complaint (the “Complaint”) charging eight individuals with conspiracy to commit money laundering under 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) and 1956(a)(2) and interstate and foreign travel in aid of racketeering enterprises under 18 U.S.C. § 1952 for their alleged involvement in a sprawling, highly sophisticated $1.2 billion international money laundering conspiracy. Among those charged were four Venezuelan nationals with assorted connections to Venezuelan public officials and the country’s state-owned oil company; a Columbian national and American citizen with ties to American financial firms; a Portuguese national and purported “professional money launderer”; a German national described by the government as a “high-level banker at a large Swiss bank”; and a Uruguayan national with ownership interest in at least one American bank known to the government to facilitate money laundering. The Complaint also identifies nine unnamed co-conspirators and implicates numerous unnamed American and international financial institutions.
The Complaint — the product of a joint investigation by the Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations — sets forth allegations of conduct designed to embezzle $1.2 billion from a Venezuelan oil company and launder that money through fraudulent transactions involving the sale of false securities and high-end real estate and through fraudulent contractual relationships in the United States and Europe. The defendants are described as “sophisticated operators with respect to the international banking system [who] are aware of banks’ general due diligence and anti-money laundering practices, including know-your-customer (KYC) requirements.” The Complaint sets forth an elaborate tale which encompasses a litany of current “hot” topics in money laundering and on which we have blogged, including alleged corruption in the Venezuelan oil industry; moving the proceeds of official corruption through the international financial system; the potential laundering of foreign assets through high-end real estate in the United States, and the misuse of shell companies to hide the true beneficial owners.
Continue Reading 8 Charged With Highly Sophisticated $1.2 Billion International Money Laundering Conspiracy
Founded in 1977 by Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca, Mossack Fonseca had been perched at the top of offshore legal services providers until April 2016, when it became ground zero for a global controversy because approximately 11.5 million of the firm’s internal legal and financial documents were leaked to the media. These leaked documents – publicized primarily by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (“ICIJ”) – allegedly reveal a global system of undisclosed offshore accounts, money laundering and tax evasion, and how the rich and powerful around the world use shell companies to conceal assets and possible illegal activity.
The incident is the largest publicly disclosed data breach involving a law firm. Following the April 2016 publication of data, founding partner Ramon Fonseca and other public sources claimed that the firm’s network had been compromised by hackers sometime in 2015. Security researchers and other public sources identified numerous unpatched vulnerabilities in Mossack’s website and email server, which could have been very easily compromised by hackers. Approximately 2.6 terabytes of data – including 4.8 million emails, 3 million database files, and 2.1 million.pdf files – were leaked, including client documents dating back to the 1970s.
The Panama Papers scandal not only sharpened the national and global focus on the general risks of money laundering, tax evasion, and terrorist financing, but it also helped fuel the international critique of the United States as a potential haven for money laundering and tax evasion due to opportunities in the U.S. to form legal entities without having to disclose the entities’ true beneficial owners. The scandal also reminded the world how lawyers potentially can facilitate their clients’ money laundering.
The incident and resulting scandal also illustrates the growing frequency, ease, and potentially devastating consequences of data breaches. Cyber incidents – whether malicious or non-malicious in nature – can threaten even the richest and most powerful people, and the breach of client confidential information held by a law firm can have serious potential legal consequences for both the firm and its affected clients.
Continue Reading “Panama Papers” Law Firm Announces Its Closure Due to Fallout from Massive Data Breach
We discuss two recent federal court opinions addressing two issues of increasing frequency and importance: (i) the potential civil liability of financial institutions to non-customers and other third-parties for alleged failures to implement an effective Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) program; and (ii) the ability of private plaintiffs to sue foreign defendants who allegedly committed offenses against the plaintiffs abroad, and then laundered the proceeds of those offenses in the U.S. This second issue, of course, is relevant to U.S. government actions against foreign persons.
As we shall see, banks are not necessarily liable to anyone impacted by a bank’s alleged AML-related failures. Conversely, foreign defendants may be surprised by the ability of plaintiffs to haul them into U.S. court to redress alleged criminal offenses committed entirely abroad — if those foreign defendants sent the fruits of those offenses to the U.S. The case relevant to the latter point involves allegations of billions of dollars of theft and corruption committed in Kazakhstan as part of a complicated scheme to purchase high-end real estate in New York (a recurring theme in recent money laundering enforcement efforts, and in this blog) via European shell companies, using in part accounts held at the troubled foreign bank FBME, about which we have blogged before.
Continue Reading The Courts Speak: Bank Liability for Alleged AML Failures Impacting Third Parties, and Hauling into U.S. Court Foreign Defendants Who Launder the Alleged Fruits of Foreign Crime
As the world now knows, an indictment against Paul Manafort, Jr., a former campaign chairperson for now-President Donald Trump, and Manafort’s associate, Richard Gates III, was unsealed yesterday. Brought by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, the indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates, while working as political consultants and lobbyists, acted as agents of the Government of Ukraine and other foreign entities; failed to properly register and report as such agents; generated tens of millions of dollars from this work; laundered these earnings through various U.S. and foreign entities and bank accounts; and hid these same earnings from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”).
This post will discuss some legal aspects of the specific charges. This post will not delve into any potential political ramifications of the indictment, or speculate as to what the indictment may or may not supposedly reveal regarding the work of the Special Counsel in general. Standing alone, the indictment is a fascinating document for those interested in money laundering and international tax evasion issues, and highlights the potentially powerful overlap of money laundering charges, tax fraud charges, and alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”).
In particular, we will discuss:
- The charges involving the “international” prong of the money laundering statute, a rarely used charge;
- The charges under the BSA alleging failures to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Account, or FBARs – a charge which has become a staple in the government’s decade-long enforcement campaign against international tax evasion and undisclosed foreign accounts held by all sorts of U.S. taxpayers; and
- How the indictment’s allegations conform with the recent regulatory emphasis on the alleged use of high-end real estate in the U.S. to launder illicit funds earned abroad.