Sixth Post in an Extended Series on Legislative Changes to BSA/AML Regulatory Regime

As we have blogged, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AMLA”) contains major changes to the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), coupled with other changes relating to money laundering, anti-money laundering (“AML”), counter-terrorism financing (“CTF”), and protecting the U.S. financial system against illicit foreign actors.

A recurring theme of the changes offered by AMLA is information sharing. AMLA mandates that the Department of Treasury’s supervision priorities must include “appropriate frameworks for information sharing among financial institutions, their agents and service providers, their regulatory authorities, associations of financial institutions, the Department of the Treasury, and law enforcement authorities.” The increased emphasis on information sharing is accompanied by provisions requiring confidentiality and data security protocols.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) is already beginning to address AMLA’s focus on the sharing and protection of information, as it explained in its recent detailed Report on FinCEN’s Innovation Hours Program, which focuses on fostering technological innovation in AML/CTF compliance.  In this post, we explore AMLA’s expansion of information sharing, corresponding privacy and data security protections, and the tensions that lie therein. Continue Reading AMLA Information-Sharing and Privacy and Data Security Concerns

On February 25, 2021, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (“FFIEC”) released updates to the Bank Secretary Act/Anti-Money Laundering (“BSA/AML”) Examination Manual (the “Manual”), which provides guidance to examiners for evaluating a financial institution’s BSA/AML compliance program and its compliance with related regulatory requirements.

First, the Manual adds a new introductory section, Assessing Compliance with [BSA] Regulatory Requirements.  Second, the Manual updates the sections pertaining to Customer Identification Program (“CIP”), Currency Transaction Reporting (“CTR”), and Transactions of Exempt Persons. The Manual explains that, consistent with prior updates, that the “updates should not be interpreted as new instructions or as a new or increased focus on certain areas,” but are intended to “offer further transparency into the examination process and support risk-focused examination work.”

The 2021 updates are not quite as substantial as the 2020 updates to the Manual, which pertained to scoping and planning of examinations; the review of a financial institution’s BSA/AML risk assessment; the assessment of an institution’s BSA/AML compliance program; and guidance for examiners on developing conclusions and finalizing the examination.  Nonetheless, the updates provide useful insight into what examiners regard as important for BSA/AML compliance. Continue Reading The FFIEC Updates the BSA/AML Examination Manual

I am pleased to have been a guest on FTI‘s Fraud Eats Strategy podcast series, hosted by Scott Moritz.  In an episode entitled How Transparent is the Corporate Transparency Act, we explore the cornerstone of the newly-passed Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”).

The CTA requires covered legal entities to report their beneficial owners at the time of their creation to a database accessible by U.S. and foreign law enforcement and regulators, and to U.S. financial institutions seeking to comply with their own anti-money laundering (“AML”) compliance obligations.  As we discuss, the CTA strikes at beneficial ownership and the misuse of shell corporations — issues which have been at the heart of global AML regulation and enforcement for years.  But the CTA is not perfect, and the logistics of its implementation will be daunting.

We hope you enjoy the podcast.

If you would like to remain updated on these issues, please click here to subscribe to Money Laundering Watch. Please click here to find out about Ballard Spahr’s Anti-Money Laundering Team.

U.N. Report Focus on Improving Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance

On March 2, 2020 the United Nations released a Report on Financial Integrity For Sustainable Development (the “Report”). Although the Report is lengthy and wide-ranging, we will focus here on the portions of the Report which target the humanitarian toll of Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) from money laundering, tax abuse, cross-border corruption, and transnational financial crime – all of which can drain resources from sustainable development, worsen inequality, fuel instability, undermine governance, and damage public trust.   We also will focus on the portions of the Report which make recommendations designed to expand anti-money laundering (“AML”) compliance.

First, the Report makes evidence-based recommendations focused on accountability, designed to close international enforcement and compliance gaps. Those recommendations include: (i) all countries enacting legislation providing for the widest range of legal tools to pursue cross-border financial crime; (ii) the international community developing an agreed-upon international standard for settlement of cross-border corruption cases, and (iii) businesses holding accountable all executives, staff, and board members who foster or tolerate IFFs in the name of the business.

Second, the Report makes other recommendations on several AML-related issues on which we have blogged: (i) each country creating a central registry of beneficial ownership information for legal entities; (ii) creating global standards for professionals, including lawyers, accountants, bankers and real estate agents; (iii) improving protections for human rights defenders, anti-corruption advocates, investigative journalists and whistleblowers; and (iv) promoting the exchange of information internationally among law enforcement officers and other authorities.

The Report clearly envisions that corporations can and should play a pivotal role in contributing resources in the fight against corruption, money laundering and cross-border financial crime. To start, Boards and management, particularly those of financial and professional service institutions, must engage in oversight to ensure that compensation, benefits, and employment itself are contingent upon financial integrity. Investors also should embrace financial integrity for sustainable development and be clear with the companies in which they invest that they expect effective anti-corruption policies and regulatory compliance. Integrity will be cultivated when organizational leadership hold board members, executives, and staff accountable if they foster or tolerate IFFs in the name of the business. Moreover, the Report observes that governments can foster financial integrity by imposing liability for failing to prevent bribery or corruption. Continue Reading United Nations Targets Corruption and Illicit Cross-Border Finance

Fifth Post in an Extended Series on Legislative Changes to BSA/AML Regulatory Regime

As we have blogged, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AMLA”) makes major changes to the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and the U.S. approach to money laundering, anti-money laundering (“AML”), counter-terrorism financing (“CTF”) and protecting the U.S. financial system against illicit foreign actors.  For example, the AMLA requires covered businesses to report beneficial ownership information to a central federal database; broadens the stated purpose of the BSA; expands the options and protections for whistleblowers alleging AML violations; and expands the U.S. government’s authority to subpoena information from foreign financial institutions with U.S. correspondent bank account relationships.

In addition to these changes, Congress also has used the AMLA as a tool to gather information on complex issues involving money laundering risks and BSA/AML compliance by requiring many studies and reports.  In this post, we focus on two important issues for which Congress has required reports from the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”):  human trafficking and de-risking.

The willingness to address these problems through the AMLA shows that Congress is aware of the nexus between money laundering and human rights violations—and more importantly, appears ready to leverage the information gathered by the GAO in order to potentially address that nexus through future legislation.  Congress is not alone in its concern.  For example, the United Nations issued a report earlier this month on how transnational financial crime can impair sustainable development across the globe, worsen inequality, and fuel instability. Continue Reading Congress Tasks GAO to Study the Intersection of Money Laundering and Humanitarian Issues:  Human Trafficking and De-Risking

As we have blogged, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AMLA”) amended the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) to expand greatly the options for whistleblowers alleging anti-money laundering (“AML”) violations and potentially create a wave of litigation and government actions, similar to what has occurred in the wake of the creation of the Dodd-Frank whistleblower program.

We thought it would be valuable to learn how counsel for potential whistleblowers regard the AMLA and its implications.  We therefore are very pleased to welcome to Money Laundering Watch guest bloggers Mary Inman and Carolina Gonzalez of the law firm Constantine Cannon.

Ms. Inman is a partner in the London and San Francisco offices of Constantine Cannon. After 20+ years representing whistleblowers in the U.S., she moved to London in July 2017 to launch the firm’s international whistleblower practice, and she now splits her time between the London and San Francisco offices. She specializes in representing whistleblowers from the U.S., U.K., Europe and worldwide under the American whistleblower programs, including the federal and various state False Claims Acts and the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”), Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), Department of Transportation (“DOT”) and new Treasury Department BSA whistleblower programs. Ms. Inman’s efforts to export the American whistleblower programs to the U.K., including her efforts on behalf of a successful British whistleblower, were featured in a recent New York Times article “Law Firm Sees Britain as Hunting Ground for U.S. Whistleblower Cases.” Her successful representation of three whistleblowers exposing fraud in the Medicare Advantage program was featured in the February 4, 2019 issue of the New Yorker magazine in an article entitled “The Personal Toll of Whistle-Blowing.” Ms. Inman represents renowned whistleblower Tyler Shultz who exposed the now infamous Silicon Valley blood testing start-up Theranos, and regularly speaks on lessons to be learned from this scandal.

Ms. Gonzalez is a senior associate in Constantine Cannon’s London office and a member of the firm’s International Whistleblower practice.  She represents international whistleblowers under various U.S. and non-U.S. whistleblower reward programs.  Her practice focuses on financial services fraud, foreign corruption,  and money laundering. Carolina is heavily involved in developing various practice initiatives in emerging markets like Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

This blog post again takes the form of a Q & A session, in which Ms. Inman and Ms. Gonzalez respond to questions posed by Money Laundering Watch about the BSA’s new whistleblower provision. We hope you enjoy this discussion regarding this important new development, and how it is regarded by potential whistleblowers and their counsel. – Peter Hardy and Meredith Dante Continue Reading The New BSA Whistleblower Provision – From the Whistleblowers’ Perspective.  A Guest Blog.

Fourth Post in an Extended Series on Legislative Changes to BSA/AML Regulatory Regime

As we have blogged, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AMLA”), contains major changes to the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), coupled with other changes relating to money laundering, anti-money laundering (“AML”), counter-terrorism financing (“CTF”) and protecting the U.S. financial system against illicit foreign actors.  In this post, we explore the AMLA’s significant expansion of the U.S. government’s authority to subpoena information from foreign financial institutions that maintain correspondent banking relationships with U.S. banks. Continue Reading AMLA Expands DOJ Grand Jury Subpoena Power Over Correspondent Bank Accounts and Foreign Banks

In its most recent Marijuana Banking Update, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) stated that the decline in the number of banks and credit unions actively banking marijuana-related businesses (MRBs) in the United States “appears to have leveled off.”  As of December 31, 2020, there were 684 banks and credit unions banking MRBs.  That is slightly up from the previous quarter’s total of 677, although it’s still down from a peak of 747 in late 2019.

FinCEN’s Update provides this graphic regarding the number of depository institutions filing suspicious activity reports (SARs) relating to MRBs:

FinCEN attributes the decline that started at the end of December 2019 to two factors.  First, in December 2019, shortly after hemp was legalized at the federal level under the 2018 Farm Bill, FinCEN and three other financial regulators – the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – released guidance on providing financial services to customers engaged in hemp-related business activities.  The guidance clarified that financial institutions were no longer required to file SARs for customers engaging in the growth or cultivation of hemp, so long as those customers operate properly under an approved federal, state or tribal regulatory program.

FinCEN also believes the COVID-19 pandemic may be adding to the decline because (1) “[s]ome MRBs have likely been closed due to government imposed quarantine restrictions;” and (2) “reduced staffing at [banks and credit unions] may have caused additional delays in filing SARs.”  That being said, most states where cannabis is legal categorized dispensaries as essential businesses and allowed them to remain open during the pandemic.  And at least one state, Illinois, reported a record-breaking $88 million in sales of recreational marijuana in January 2021.

Of course, if any of the current legislative efforts to legalize marijuana on the federal level succeed, the number of banks and credit unions willing to work with MRBs is likely to increase significantly.  It appears that Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Retting supports those efforts.  When asked about the lack of banking access for MRBs during an oversight hearing before the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on February 23, 2021, Rettig said the IRS would “prefer” MRBs to have access to traditional financial services.  “It’s a security issue for the IRS.  It’s a security issue for our employees in our taxpayer assistance centers, [which] is actually where we receive these [cash] payments,” he explained.  “We created special facilities . . . to receive the payments.  Then we similarly have to transport the payments themselves.”

If you would like to remain updated on these issues, please click here to subscribe to Money Laundering Watch.  To learn more about Ballard Spahr’s Anti-Money Laundering Team, please click here.  To learn about Ballard Spahr’s Cannabis Group, please click here.

On February 24, the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) Criminal Division Fraud Section released its 2020 Year In Review (“the Report”) touting its white-collar enforcement successes.  Among them: four cases in which the DOJ wielded the United States’ money laundering statutes to pursue alleged overseas bribery recipients who are beyond the reach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”).  This is a pattern we have covered previously (here, hereherehere, here, here and here).   While the FCPA imposes liability on American citizens and entities that bribe foreign officials, it does not impose liability on the foreign officials receiving the bribe.  Enter 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956 and 1957.  As illustrated in the Report’s cases, 2020 marked a continuation of the DOJ’s willingness to use the money laundering statutes to pursue corrupt foreign activity that uses U.S. financial institutions, however tangentially. Continue Reading DOJ Fraud Section 2020 Year in Review: Money Laundering Statute Remains an Overseas Enforcement Tool