The beneficial ownership information (“BOI”) registry under the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) is now up and running at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”).  This post will follow up on a previous blog regarding the recently-published CTA BOI access regulations (the “Access Rule”).  As we will discuss, the Access Rule leaves open many important questions for financial institutions (“FIs”) covered by the CTA, as they await further proposed regulations from FinCEN regarding alignment of the CTA with the Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”) Rule.

The full federal register publication for the Access Rule is here.  It is 82 pages long.  We therefore have created this separate 13-page document, which is slightly more user-friendly, setting forth only the actual regulations (now published at 31 C.F.R. § 1010.955).

Continue Reading Final CTA Access Rule Answers Some Questions, and Leaves Open Others

On December 14, 2023, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (the “Court”) granted an unusual ex parte application to serve third-party discovery subpoenas on U.S.-based Deutsche Bank entities.  The subpoenas seek evidence to assist the Applicants’ ongoing litigation against Danske Bank, which is taking place in the City Court of Copenhagen.  The Court granted this ex parte application without prejudice to the ability of the U.S.-based Deutsche Bank entities to move to quash the subpoenas on the basis of such grounds as relevance and proportionality.

As we will discuss, this discovery action raises interesting questions about the ability of private parties to obtain very sensitive anti-money laundering (“AML”) materials from financial institutions for the purposes of advancing civil litigation (either against the subpoena recipient itself or another financial institution).  Likewise, this action highlights the bind which financial institutions and other businesses can face when private litigations attempt to obtain their prior, substantial responses to regulator and law enforcement document demands.

Continue Reading SDNY Grants Ex Parte Applicants the Ability to Subpoena Deutsche Bank Entities as Part of Ongoing AML-Related Litigation Against Danske Bank

Farewell to 2023, and welcome 2024.  As we do every year, let’s look back.

We highlight 10 of our most-read blog posts from 2023, which address many of the key issues we’ve examined during the past year: criminal money laundering enforcement; compliance risks with third-party fintech relationships; the scope of authority of bank regulators; sanctions evasion — particularly sanctions involving Russia; cryptocurrency and digital assets; AML enforcement by the SEC; and BSA/AML compliance and its tension with de-risking.

We move on to 2024.  It will be another critical year, as the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) is now in effect — with regulations pertaining to the alignment of the CTA and the Customer Due Diligence Rule still to come.  FinCEN also is expected to issue proposed regulations for the real estate industry, AML whistleblowing, and, potentially, investment advisors.  Criminal and regulatory enforcement relating to digital assets and fintech and third-party relationships will continue.  We look forward to keeping you informed throughout 2024 on these and other developments.

We also want to thank our many readers around the world who continue to make this blog such a success. The feedback we receive from financial industry professionals, compliance officers, in-house and external lawyers, BSA/AML consultants, government personnel, journalists, and others interested in this field is invaluable, and we hope you will continue to share your perspectives with us.  We pride ourselves on providing in-depth discussions of the important developments in this ever-evolving area.

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.

This morning, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued the much-anticipated final rule (“Final Rule”) under the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) regarding access to beneficial ownership information (“BOI”) reported to FinCEN.  These regulations could hardly have arrived any later than they did – the CTA becomes effective on January 1, 2024, although FinCEN recently extended the reporting deadline for companies created in 2024 to a period of 90 days from the date of creation

The access regulations initially proposed in December 2022 (see our blog post here) were complex; the Final Rule is as well, or more so.  Indeed, it is over 247 pages long, prior to its final publication version in the Federal Register.  Given the Final Rule’s length, we will analyze it in more detail in a future blog post. 

Today, we will describe the YouTube video contemporaneously released by FinCEN, which describes the Final Rule at a high level, and notes certain differences between it and the initially proposed regulations.  The headline here is that FinCEN has attempted to address certain criticisms raised by financial institutions regarding the initially proposed regulations and their access to BOI.  In the video, FinCEN Director Andrea Gacki observed that FinCEN still needs to propose regulations aligning the CTA with the existing Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”) Rule for banks and other financial institutions (“FIs”), which requires covered FIs to obtain BOI from designated entity customers.

This blog post is high-level and focuses only on the statements made during the video.  The details of the Final Rule still need to be parsed.  Also, FinCEN continued the information onslaught today by issuing an accompanying news release, fact sheet, statement for banks, and statement for non-bank financial institutions.

Continue Reading FinCEN Issues Final CTA BOI Access Rules, Heralded by YouTube Video

In its Fall 2023 Semiannual Risk Perspective, published on December 7, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) reported on key issues facing the federal banking system.  In evaluating the overall soundness of the federal banking system, the OCC emphasized the need for banks to maintain prudent risk management practices. The key risk themes that the OCC underscored in the report included credit, market, operational, and compliance risks. 

Of particular note was the discussion on the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”)/Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) compliance risks with respect to fintech relationships.  We also will discuss briefly certain other compliance and operational risks highlighted by the OCC.

Continue Reading OCC Risk Perspective Report Focuses on Third-Party Relationships with Fintechs

The October 7, 2023 attacks on Israel by Hamas have re-focused U.S. government efforts to identify and counter funding streams for Hamas and terrorist activity in general – including, in particular, through the use of cryptocurrency.  This heightened focus is exemplified by a recent report (“Report”) published by the Congressional Research Service (“CRS”), which examines the role of cryptocurrency donations in Hamas fundraising campaigns, which long predate the October 7 attacks.  The Report references recent, related efforts by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), which we also discuss.

Continue Reading Hamas, Terrorist Financing, and Cryptocurrency

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) has extended the deadline for reporting beneficial ownership information (“BOI”) under the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) for reporting companies formed in 2024.  Specifically, FinCEN has extended the filing deadline from 30 to 90 days from the date of formation for both domestic and foreign entities created or registered on or after January 1, 2024 and before January 1, 2025.  The 30-day filing deadline for pre-existing entities, which must file BOI reports by January 1, 2025, is not affected.

The CTA is scheduled to become effective on January 1, 2024.  In the short time between now and then, FinCEN still must promulgate final regulations regarding access to the BOI database, propose regulations on the alignment between the CTA and the Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”) Rule applicable to banks, and actually finalize the BOI reporting form.  The time frame in which FinCEN must act is shrinking quickly.  And, of course, the BOI database must be functional as a practical matter, and ready to effectively process many millions of CTA filings.

Indeed, when issuing this extension, FinCEN noted in the Federal Register publication that some commentators argued that an extension was necessary because FinCEN itself needed additional time to implement the BOI regulations.  However, FinCEN rejected calls for an even longer extension – including through the end of 2024, or 90 days from the income tax return deadline for new companies (which would have benefitted CPAs and tax return preparers assisting clients with BOI reporting).  FinCEN stated that a longer extension was unnecessary because “the [BOI] database must be reasonably up-to-date and accurate,” and because FinCEN “expects the public to become increasingly aware of the BOI reporting requirements as 2024 progresses, and in the coming years FinCEN will build upon its existing efforts to educate entrepreneurs who start new reporting companies.” 

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.

On November 22, 2023, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), in close coordination with the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) Criminal Investigation (“CI”), issued an alert (“Alert”) regarding the COVID-19 Employee Retention Credit (“ERC”). The Alert echoes the FinCEN’s previous Notice on payroll tax evasion and workers’ compensation fraud in the construction sector, which was similarly issued by FinCEN in coordination with IRS CI, which has established itself as one of the primary “consumers” of Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) reports filed with FinCEN.

Since 2020, IRS CI has investigated more than $2.8 billion of potentially fraudulent ERC claims. The Alert indicates that ERC fraud occurs when fraudulent claims are filed using shell companies or existing but ineligible businesses to pay for personal expenses upon receipt of the credit. The fraud also occurs when businesses are “duped” into filing for the ERC by a third-party, who often provides the business with misinformation about program qualifications and takes a fee to help the business file a claim for the ERC.

Continue Reading FinCEN Issues Alert on COVID-19 Employee Retention Tax Credit Fraud

A Huge Monetary Penalty for Sprawling Allegations – But Will Zhao Receive a Prison Sentence?

As the world now knows, Binance Holdings Limited, doing business as Binance.com (“Binance” or the “Company”), has entered into a plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”).  

Binance is registered in the Cayman Islands and regarded as the world’s largest virtual currency exchange. It agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to willfully violating the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) by failing to implement and maintain an effective anti-money laundering (“AML”) program; knowingly failing to register as a money services business (“MSB”); and willfully causing violations of U.S. economic sanctions issued pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”). Despite the plea agreement, Binance will continue to operate.

Changpeng Zhao, also known as “CZ,” also pleaded guilty to violating the BSA by failing to implement and maintain an effective AML program. Zhao is Binance’s primary founder, majority owner, and – until now – CEO. As part of his plea agreement, Zhao has stepped down as the CEO, although he apparently will keep his shares in Binance.

As part of its plea agreement, Binance has agreed to forfeit $2,510,650,588 and to pay a criminal fine of $1,805,475,575 for a total criminal penalty of $4,316,126,163. Binance also entered into related civil consent orders with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”), and the Office of Foreign Assets Controls (“OFAC”). Zhao also entered into a consent order with the CFTC.

The allegations are vast and detailed, and much digital ink already has been spilled regarding this matter. Our discussion therefore will be relatively high-level. Distilled, the government alleges that Binance – under the direction of Zhao – tried to hide the fact that it operated in the U.S., purposefully avoided any meaningful AML compliance, and consequently laundered many millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency involving extremely serious criminal conduct, including terrorism, child pornography, and U.S. sanctions evasion.

As for Zhao, and as we will discuss, whether he will go to prison – and if so, for how long – is an open and very interesting question. His sentencing currently is scheduled for February 23, 2024.

Continue Reading Binance Settles Criminal and Civil AML and Sanctions Enforcement Actions for Multiple Billions – While its Founder, Owner and Former CEO Zhao Pleads Guilty to Single AML Crime

On November 16, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued – again –expanded FAQs pertaining to beneficial ownership information (“BOI”) reportable under the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”).  These expanded FAQs enlarge upon the previously expanded FAQs set forth by FinCEN in September

The expanded FAQs of course cannot and do not expand upon the statutory and regulatory obligations already established by the CTA.    In that sense, they do not add any additional insight, but rather repeat the rules already set by statute and regulation.  With that in mind, we set forth below the new FAQs, some of which have particular relevance to attorneys and other so-called gatekeepers.

The CTA is scheduled to become effective on January 1, 2024.  In the short time between now and then, FinCEN still must promulgate final regulations regarding access to the BOI database and propose regulations on the alignment between the CTA and the Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”) Rule applicable to banks.  The time frame in which FinCEN must act is shrinking quickly.

Continue Reading FinCEN Expands CTA FAQs