Strategy Touts Regulations on Beneficial Ownership, Real Estate and Investment Advisers, but Bemoans Lack of Supervisory Resources for Non-Bank Financial Institutions

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has issued its 2024 National Strategy for Combatting Terrorist and Other Illicit Financing (“Strategy”).  It is a 55-page document which, according to the government’s press release, “addresses the key risks from the 2024 National Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Proliferation Financing Risk Assessments. . . and details how the United States will build on recent historic efforts to modernize the U.S. anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime, enhance operational effectiveness in combating illicit actors, and embrace technological innovation to mitigate risks.”

The Strategy discusses an enormous list of topics.  Given the breadth of its scope, the Strategy generally makes only very high-level comments regarding any particular topic.  This post accordingly is extremely high level as well, and offers only a few select comments. 

Continue Reading  Treasury Issues Broad National Strategy for Combatting Illicit Financing

On April 20, 2024, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities (“DoBS”) issued a policy statement (“Policy Statement”) to “clarify” that the Department’s interpretation of the term “money” in the Pennsylvania Money Transmitter Act (“MTA”) includes “virtual currency, such as Bitcoin.”  The MTA provides in part that “[n]o person shall engage in the business of transmitting money by means of a transmittal instrument for a fee or other consideration with or on behalf of an individual without first having obtained a license from the department.’”

Thus, the Policy Statement means that virtual currency exchangers and related businesses doing business in Pennsylvania must become licensed as money transmitters.  The effective date of the Policy Statement is October 15, 2024.  Neither the DoBS nor the MTA define “virtual currency.”

Continue Reading  PA Department of Banking and Securities: Virtual Currency is “Money”

Enforcement Trends, Gaming, Crypto — and More

I am very pleased to co-chair again the Practicing Law Institute’s 2024 Anti-Money Laundering Conference on May 23, 2024, starting at 9 a.m. in New York City (the event also will be virtual). 

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

Components of the U.S. Federal Reserve System recently prevailed in two lawsuits in which both plaintiffs – Custodia Bank and PayServices Bank – alleged the defendants were required to grant the plaintiffs’ master account requests and wrongfully denied them master accounts.  Both the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming and the United States District Court for the District of Idaho rejected these claims and instead ruled as a matter of law that the respective regional Federal Reserve Banks had discretion to deny the plaintiffs’ requests for a master account. 

Putting aside very extreme instances, these recent decisions further confirm that the Federal Reserve System appears to have near unfettered discretion in determining which banks can receive a master account.  Although these court rulings turn primarily on statutory interpretation issues and broad legal principles, these rulings will have particular practical consequences for financial institutions looking to serve niche industries – such as cryptocurrency and cannabis – which regulators perceive as presenting higher risks in regard to anti-money laundering, sanctions, safety and soundness and other regulatory concerns.

Continue Reading  Districts of Wyoming and Idaho Affirm Broad Fed Powers over Master Accounts

Form Would Impose De Facto KYC Obligations Relating to Unhosted Wallets

On April 18, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued a draft version of Form 1099-DA, a proposed information reporting form regarding certain digital asset sales and exchanges that “digital asset brokers” will need to file with the IRS and provide to the individuals involved in the sales and exchanges (“Draft Form”). The detailed and complicated Draft Form would be the first of its kind. 

If ultimately promulgated, the Draft Form and its supporting regulations would impose customer identification obligations upon a potentially broad swath of digital industry participants, including those who currently take the position that they do not need to collect customer identification information because they provide only decentralized finance (“DeFi”) services and/or provide only “unhosted” digital wallet services. Such customer identification obligations would be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”), rather than – as has been discussed for years – anti-money laundering (“AML”) and Know Your Customer (“KYC”) requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”). From the perspective of the digital asset industry, the precise source of the obligations would not matter much, because the practical consequences would be similar: they will need to collect tax identification information from sellers and buyers of digital assets.   

Continue Reading  IRS Unveils Broad Draft Information Reporting Form for Digital Asset Transactions

Last week, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York unsealed an indictment against global cryptocurrency exchange KuCoin and two of its founders, Chun Gan and Ke Tang, for allegedly conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and conspiring to violate the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) by willfully failing to maintain an adequate anti-money laundering (“AML”) program.  KuCoin also was charged with operating an unlicensed money transmitting business and a substantive violation of the BSA. Further, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”) filed a complaint on the same day in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that KuCoin violated the Commodity Exchange Act (the “CEA”) and related regulations.

The indictment alleges that KuCoin failed to design and implement procedures to prevent it from being used for money laundering and terrorist financing, failed to maintain reasonable procedures for verifying the identity of customers, and failed to file any Suspicious Activity Reports.  When distilled, the indictment alleges that KuCoin had no real BSA/AML compliance program at all, because it pretended to not have any U.S. customers.  This allegation is familiar theme in similar U.S. enforcement actions, including those against Binance.

The CFTC civil complaint specifically alleges that KuCoin illegally dealt in off-exchange commodity futures transactions; solicited and accepted orders for commodity futures and swaps, and leveraged, margined, or financed retail commodity transactions without registering with the CFTC as a Futures Commission Merchant (“FCM”); failed to diligently supervise its FCM activities; operated a facility for the trading or processing of swaps without registering with the CFTC as a swap execution facility or designated contract market; and failed to implement an effective customer identification program.

Continue Reading  KuCoin and Founders Charged with Operating Illegally as Money Transmitter and Futures Commission Merchant

Today we are very pleased to welcome guest blogger Lili Infante, who is the CEO of CAT Labs – a tech company building digital asset recovery and quantum-resistant cryptography tools to fight crypto crime.  Lili previously spent a decade as a DEA Special Agent with the U.S. Department of Justice and pioneered an early federal task force focusing exclusively on crypto and dark web crimes. Lili has led numerous major crypto-related investigations to include the takedown of Hydra – the largest crypto-powered dark web criminal organization and money laundering platform in the world.

We reached out to Lili because her work is fascinating and increasingly important.  Law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Treasury Department and other regulators are focused on vulnerabilities and potential gaps in the United States’ anti-money laundering (“AML”) and countering the financing of terrorism (“CFT”) regulatory, supervisory, and enforcement regimes in regards to the use and misuse of virtual assets and decentralized finance.  Virtual assets can be the vehicle of choice for terrorist financing, fraud schemes, and state-sponsored cyber crime.  Meanwhile, agencies such as the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) struggle to find proposed regulatory solutions.

This blog post again takes the form of a Q&A session, in which Lili responds to questions posed by Money Laundering Watch about investigating crypto-related illicit activity and recovering digital assets. We hope you enjoy this discussion on this important topic. – Peter Hardy

Continue Reading  Fighting Crypto Crime:  A Guest Blog.

It is challenging for law enforcement to track down and trace illicit activities conducted through digital currencies. The process can be very time- and resource-intensive.  Further, securing charges and arrests, and subsequent convictions, often requires the strong support of traditional sources of evidence, such as fact witness testimony and electronic communications.  Nonetheless, blockchain analytics is a key component of the government’s ability to pursue such cases.

On March 12, a jury in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia found Roman Sterlingov guilty on charges of money laundering conspiracy, so-called “sting” money laundering, operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, and violations of the D.C. Money Transmitters Act.  We blogged about the initial criminal complaint issued against Sterlingov here.  Sterlingov allegedly laundered $400 million through Bitcoin Fog, a bitcoin mixing service which can be used to obscure the origins of cryptocurrency transactions. 

Shortly before the trial and guilty verdicts, the Court issued an order addressing the admissibility of expert testimony related to blockchain analysis software under the factors established by the Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to assess the reliability of expert testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 702.  This blog post focuses on that order.

Specifically, the Court addressed proprietary software used by the private digital asset forensic firm Chainalysis, Chainalysis Reactor (“Reactor”), and whether expert testimony by witnesses propounded by the government – Luke Scholl (“Scholl”) from the FBI, and Elizabeth Bisbee (“Bisbee”) from Chainalysis – could rely upon Reactor under Daubert.  Reactor is a software used to dissect bitcoin transactions, utilizing techniques like co-spend analysis to connect multiple addresses to a single entity. The defense raised significant concerns about the reliability of Reactor.

The Court found the expert testimony admissible under Daubert.  Importantly, the Court also noted that while Reactor was important to the government’s case, it was not the sole basis for the prosecution’s theories. Other evidence, such as materials found in Sterlingov’s possession, online forum posts, IP analyses, and traditional blockchain tracing, also supported the prosecution.

The Court’s decision has potentially significant implications for future cases involving cryptocurrency transactions and digital currency-related crimes. It establishes a precedent regarding the potential admissibility of evidence derived from such software tools and underscores the evolving challenges and complexities of investigating financial crimes in the digital age.

Continue Reading  Blockchain Analysis and Related Expert Testimony Admissible In Criminal Trial

Third of Three Posts in a Related Series on Recent AML and Money Laundering Prosecutions

As we have blogged, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has been busy lately in regards to money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) / Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) prosecutions.

In our first blog post in this three-part series, we discussed a significant prosecution of an individual, and two related corporate non-prosecution agreements involving the gaming industry.  In our second blog post, we discussed two unusual prosecutions involving, respectively, an executive of a bank and an alleged AML specialist working with small financial institutions.

In our final post of this series, we will discuss the prosecution and sentencing of a lawyer who allegedly became part of the massive fraud and money laundering scheme perpetrated by his cryptocurrency client.  Specifically, on January 25, lawyer Mark Scott (“Scott”) was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly laundering approximately $400 million in connection with a fraudulent cryptocurrency scheme known as “OneCoin.”  Scott was a former partner at the international law firm of Locke Lord.  Although the alleged facts and circumstances of this case are both extreme and lurid, it nonetheless reminds lawyers of the need to be careful about getting too involved in the businesses of their clients, particularly in the presence of multiple red flags.

Continue Reading  Former Big Law Lawyer Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for Allegedly Laundering $400 Million in Crypto Client Funds

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.