FinCEN leak paints picture of indiscriminate money laundering with help of world’s largest banks as govt turns blind eye
20 Sep, 2020 23:07 / Updated 6 minutes ago
JPMorgan Chase, Standard Chartered and HSBC were some of the banks hit by the leak of suspicious financial transactions. © REUTERS/Brendan McDermid; REUTERS/Chris Helgren; REUTERS/Kham
A massive leak of internal bank documents has supposedly revealed that the world’s biggest financial institutions moved more than $2 trillion in suspected dirty money for mobsters, drug cartels, and ponzi schemers.
According to a trove of internal documents obtained by Buzzfeed, some of the world’s largest financial institutions allowed criminals to launder money, and profited from doing so. The documents in question are known as Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), sent to US authorities when bank employees notice suspicious dollar transactions, like large wire transfers from shell companies with no previous relationship.
Once sent to the US Financial Crimes Investigation Network (FinCEN), these reports should trigger investigations. However, according to Buzzfeed, regulators often don’t follow them up, and banks sometimes continue to move illicit cash, even after the reports are sent.
The reports themselves are kept secret, and cannot be obtained even by Freedom of Information Act requests. Even after acquiring them, Buzzfeed said it would not publish them, as some contain the names of some innocent people and companies not under investigation.
The news outlet did describe some of the reports though, and said that the 2,100 SARs they reviewed showed more than $2 trillion worth of suspicious transactions between 1999 and 2017.
The documents reportedly show that HSBC’s Hong Kong branch allowed a Ponzi scheme to move more than $15 million, even after it was banned in three states. Standard Chartered allegedly laundered Taliban money. JPMorgan allowed Ukrainian/Russian mob boss Semion Mogilevich to move more than a billion dollars in illicit cash through its network. Mogilevich made a fortune working with Russian organized crime gangs in the 1990s, and is accused by the FBI of "weapons trafficking, contract murders, extortion, drug trafficking, and prostitution on an international scale."
Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan and American Express all reportedly processed “millions of dollars in transactions” for the family of Kazakh Mayor Viktor Khrapunov, even after Interpol issued a Red Notice for his arrest.
Together, these transactions and more add up to the $2 trillion total over two decades.
FinCEN took issue with the document leak. “The unauthorized disclosure of SARs is a crime that can impact the national security of the United States,” the agency said in a statement earlier this month. In a follow-up letter, FinCEN told Buzzfeed that disclosing SARs could make banks less willing to file them in future, which “could mean law enforcement has fewer potential leads to stop crimes like human trafficking, child exploitation, fraud, corruption, terrorism, and cyber-enabled crime.”
With little done to stop the flow of dirty money, former special agent Robert Mazur told Buzzfeed that the illicit cash could be allowed to move simply because it boosts the US economy.
“Even if it's bad wealth, it buys buildings,” he said. “It puts money into bank accounts. It enriches the nation.”