FinCEN announced on October 20 that, once again, it is extending the Geographic Targeting Order, or GTO, which requires U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind so-called “shell companies” used in purchases of residential real estate not involving a mortgage. FinCEN also has expanded slightly the reach of the GTOs and the FAQs.
The new Director of FinCEN, Andrea Gacki, addressed several key topics on October 3, 2023 at the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (“ACAMS”) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Specifically, Director Gacki addressed the issues of beneficial ownership under the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”); the real estate industry; investment advisers; fentanyl trafficking; and whistleblowers…
On August 30, 2023, the Federal Council of Switzerland announced proposed laws (the “Press Release”) to strengthen its anti-money laundering (“AML”) efforts in important ways.
The proposal includes an obligation for attorneys and other advisers to conduct due diligence; the creation of a centralized, non-public register of beneficial owners (“BO”); and new measures concerning sanctions violations, real estate transactions, and precious metal traders.
The Federal Council has found that “[m]oney laundering and terrorist financing pose a serious threat to financial system integrity” and that criminals (whether in Switzerland or over the world) misuse legal entities to conceal assets and in furtherance of illicit activity. As a “major financial centre,” The Federal Council realizes that Switzerland is exposed to these risks. In the eyes of the world, the United States and Switzerland often have vied for the dubious title of the world’s top haven for tax evasion and money laundering. And Switzerland has been feeling the pressure due to being one of the world’s top economies which still has not implemented regulations for BOs.
The Federal Council published the proposed laws in German (which we do not review in this blog), and issued in English an FAQ and an informative graphic. The Federal Council is seeking input until November 29, 2023, and will act on the legislation in 2024.
The aim of the proposed laws is to “contribute significantly to protecting the financial centre from funds of criminal origin, and to strengthening Switzerland as a business location.” Although the Swiss financial sector has more robust safeguards against money laundering and terrorist financing activities, the FAQ explains that “there are gaps in other, nonfinancial areas in this respect” and that “it is necessary to also include particularly risky activities in the non-financial sector in efforts to prevent and combat financial crime.” The Federal Council has found that the “high money laundering risks associated with legal entities and trusts” require legislation to strengthen the Swiss framework. According to the Press Release, prosecuting authorities would benefit from increased transparency to more quickly and accurate identifying the true owners of legal entities.
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.
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).
On March 30, 3023, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a Financial Trend Analysis focusing on business email compromise (BEC) trends and patterns in the real estate sector (referred to as “RE BEC”). The report is required under Section 6206 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (AMLA). This section of AMLA requires FinCEN…
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.
Alleged Evasion Through a Law Firm Account and High-End Real Estate
On February 7, 2023, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Vladimir Voronchenko (“Voronchenko”) with participating in a scheme to make payments in excess of $4 million dollars to maintain four properties located in the United States that were owned by Viktor Vekselberg (“Vekselberg”), a sanctioned Russian oligarch (whose own issues we have blogged on here). Additionally, the indictment also charges Voronchenko, a citizen of the Russian Federation and legal permanent resident of the United States, with contempt of court in connection with his flight from the United States following receipt of a grand jury subpoena on May 13, 2022, which required his personal appearance and testimony. He has not returned to the United States since.
As we discuss, the indictment implicates several issues on which we blog frequently, including evasion of Russia sanctions relating to the Ukraine; the potential exposure of lawyers to money laundering risks; and the potential exposure of real estate professionals to money laundering risks.
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.
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued on December 22 a Financial Trend Analysis regarding Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) filings during the period of March to October 2022 (the “Report”) reflecting financial activity by Russian oligarchs the time of Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine. This publication also refers to three prior alerts issued by FinCEN highlighting red flags on Russian oligarchs, high-ranking officials, and sanctioned individuals, on which we blogged here, here, and here. FinCEN published the Report pursuant to the Anti-Money Laundering Act’s requirement that FinCEN periodically publish threat pattern and trend information derived from BSA filings.
Overall, FinCEN found that BSA data filed on financial transactions of Russian oligarchs, high-ranking officials, sanctioned individuals, and their family members in 2022 showed transactional patterns indicative of corruption and sanctions evasion, including:
- the movement or transfer of funds or ownership of assets and trusts;
- the purchase of high-value goods or property; and
- changes in financial flows with links to property or companies in the United States.