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.

Continue Reading  Russia Sanctions Evasion and Commercial Real Estate: An Alert

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.

Continue Reading  Russian Oligarchs and Suspicious Financial Flows: A FinCEN Analysis

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

FinCEN announced yesterday 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.

The new GTO is 

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

On April 28, 2022, the Acting Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), Himamauli Das (“Das”), appeared before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services to provide an update on FinCEN’s implementation of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AML Act”), including the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”).  You can find his prepared statement here.

In his opening remarks, Das walked through FinCEN’s activities for the year, and applauded the AML Act for putting FinCEN in a position to address today’s challenges, such as illicit use of digital assets, corruption, and kleptocrats hiding their ill-gotten gains in the U.S. financial system.  The speech focused on financial sanctions on Russia, FinCEN’s continued efforts to fight corruption, and effective AML programs.   Das also indicated that FinCEN is examining whether to issue proposed AML regulations for investment advisers – an effort that stalled in 2015.
Continue Reading  FinCEN Acting Director Das Focuses on Corruption and Transparency During U.S. House Committee on Financial Services Testimony

FinCEN announced yesterday 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.

The new GTO is

On April 14, 2022, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued an advisory on kleptocracy and foreign public corruption.  At a high level, the advisory stresses the importance of financial institutions focusing their efforts on detecting and targeting the proceeds of foreign public corruption. This advisory aligns with President Biden’s establishment of the fight against corruption as a core national security interest, as well as FinCEN’s identification of corruption as a national priority for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism.  The advisory seeks to provide financial institutions with typologies and potential indicators associated with kleptocracy and other forms of foreign public corruption, such as bribery, embezzlement, extortion, and the misappropriation of public assets.  The advisory further identifies 10 financial red flag indicators to assist financial institutions in detecting, preventing, and reporting suspicious transactions associated with kleptocracy and foreign public corruption.
Continue Reading  More from FinCEN to Financial Institutions on the Kleptocracy – With a Continued Focus on Russia

Sanctions involving Russia is a front-burner issue for all businesses, but particularly for financial institutions. As we previously blogged, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued on March 7 an alert calling for increased vigilance in the face of potential evasion of Russian sanctions. On March 16, FinCEN issued its second alert on the topic (the “Alert”), reiterating the need for increased vigilance and assisting financial institutions in detecting suspicious transactions involving high-value assets to evade sanctions.

We discuss here the Alert, which provides guidance to financial institutions on how to identify suspicious transactions relating to the use of certain high-value assets by Russian elites, their family members and their “proxies.” The Alert reminds financial institutions of the importance of quickly identifying suspicious activity related to the disposition of sanctioned Russian assets. The Alert also highlights the international and domestic task forces that were formed to effectuate the sanctions laws we describe below, emphasizing the need for cross-agency collaboration and information sharing to achieve the common goal of sanctioning Russia’s power players.  However, and as we discuss, the Alert unfortunately offers no guidance on how “proxies” should be identified or defined.
Continue Reading  Russian Sanctions Redux: FinCEN Issues Guidance on Suspicious Transactions and Evasion Using High-Value Assets

But AML Concerns Linger As To “High End” Art and NFTs

On February 4, 2022, the U.S. Department of the Treasury published a study (the “Study”) on the facilitation of money laundering (“ML”) and terrorist financing (“TF”) through the trade in works of art.  The study was commissioned as a result of Section 6110(c) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (the “Act”), which required Treasury to examine art market participants and sectors of the art market that may present ML/TF risks to the U.S. financial system, and examine what steps regulators might take to mitigate these risks.

According to the press release accompanying the Study, “[s]everal qualities inherent to high-value art – the way it is bought and sold and certain market participants – may make the high-value art market attractive for money laundering by criminals. These include the high dollar value of transactions, transportability of goods, a longstanding culture of privacy and use of intermediaries (e.g., shell companies and art advisors), and the increasing use of high-value art as an investment class.”  As we will discuss, the Study proposes four scenarios—two regulatory and two nonregulatory—to mitigate money laundering risks in the art industry. Ultimately, however, the Study concludes that, “[w]eighed against other sectors that pose ML/TF risks, . . . the art market should not be an immediate focus for the imposition of comprehensive AML/CFT requirements.” (emphasis added).  Accordingly, any ML/TF regulation of the art trade will not happen soon.

Ironically, dealers in antiquities – an industry dwarfed by the size of the global art market – are not so lucky, because Congress already has subjected them to anti-money laundering (“AML”) duties.  As we blogged, the Act amended the Bank Secrecy Act’s (“BSA”) definition of “financial institution” to include those “engaged in the trade of antiquities, including an advisor, consultant, or any other person who engages as a business in the solicitation or the sale of antiquities, subject to regulations prescribed by the [Treasury] Secretary.”  The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) still must issue implementing regulations for antiquities dealers.
Continue Reading  Treasury Report:  No Immediate Need for BSA Regulations for the Art Industry