A cache of thousands of reports filed by major banks to federal regulators shows they helped suspected terrorists, drug traffickers and corrupt foreign officials move trillions of dollars around the world, despite banks' concerns about the suspicious nature of the transactions.
The documents, known as suspicious activity reports, were obtained by BuzzFeed News and shared with a worldwide consortium of journalists. The more than 2,100 suspicious activity reports, filed by major US and international banks, relate to more than $ 2 trillion in transactions between 1999 and 201
FinCEN, about transactions that they believe may be part of a money laundering scheme, fraud or other illegal activity.
BuzzFeed received suspicious activity reports filed by major US lenders – including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America – and major international institutions such as Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Standard Chartered. Many of these banks have been repeatedly punished by US and other authorities for their role in money laundering.
BuzzFeed and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which collaborated on the project, did not publish many of the actual suspicious activity reports they received. In a statement this month FinCEN warned that “unauthorized disclosure of SARs is a crime that could affect US national security, compromise police investigations and threaten the security of the institutions and individuals who file such reports.
Among BuzzFeed's most important findings was that Standard Chartered, which operates mainly in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, appears to have contributed to the transfer of funds on behalf of a Dubai-based company that allegedly had ties to the Taliban. JPMorgan, the Bank of New York Mellon and other banks appear to have helped move more than $ 150 million for companies affiliated with the North Korean regime, according to a companion report from NBC News.
By the end of 2013, JPMorgan Chase officials had also submitted at least eight suspicious activity reports on banking activity related to Paul Manafort, President Trump's presidential campaign president in 2016. JPMorgan also moved over $ 1 billion for the alleged brain to a giant fraud involving a Malaysian Sovereign Wealth Fund.
In a suspicious activity report obtained by BuzzFeed, Bank of America officials warned the federal government in early 2016 of their serious concerns about how Deutsche Bank failed to detect and prevent money laundering. Deutsche Bank has been among the world's most severely punished banks, including for its work with money laundering of wealthy Russians. will modernize how government and law enforcement combat money laundering, terrorist financing and other economic crimes. "
A spokesman for Standard Chartered, Chris Teo, said:" We take our responsibility to fight economic crime extremely seriously and have invested significantly in our compliance programs.
A representative of the Bank of New York Mellon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Deutsche Bank has previously said that they are working to improve their money laundering systems. .
Deutsche Bank has been under control in the United States due to its longstanding role as Trump's primary lender. BuzzFeed said they did not receive suspicious activity reports involving Mr. Trump. The New York Times reported last year that anti-money laundering officers at Deutsche Bank raised concerns about transactions involving the accounts of Mr. Trump and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, but that bank governors decided not to file suspicious activity reports.
The suspicious activity reports related to Mr. Manafort appear to have contributed to the large collection of documents. According to BuzzFeed, Democratic congressional committees asked for documents from the Treasury Department when they examined Trump and the 2016 presidential election.
The documents suggest that banks sometimes use the system of reporting suspicious activity as legal coverage to facilitate potentially illegal activity. and that the reports do little to help federal officials prosecute the perpetrators.
The largest banks file tens of thousands of suspicious activity reports each year, and the total number has increased significantly in the last decade. At the same time, the staff at FinCEN has shrunk.
FinCEN, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday, announced last week that it was pursuing changes that would improve the effectiveness of money laundering programs. .
Recently, banks have pressured Congress to relieve them of some of their responsibility for money laundering. They say they are so concerned about the legal consequences of failing to report suspicious activity that they are wrong on the side of overreporting transactions. In 2017, 19 large banks filed a total of 640,000 of the suspicious activity reports, according to a study conducted by the Bank Policy Institute, a lobby group.
It is not uncommon for banks to notify regulators of activity that may be illegal and then process the transactions they marked. Between 2011 and 2013, for example, JPMorgan wired money to banks in Switzerland, Lebanon and Nigeria on behalf of a convicted money launderer, reported the transactions to the UK and US authorities and continued its operations. The Nigerian government is now suing the bank in British court for having paid money in the transactions that officials claim they should never have been allowed to leave the country. being investigated and prosecuted.
"Billions of dollars in dirty money flow through the financial system in a toxic stew of criminal income," Linda Lacewell, chief inspector of the New York Department of Financial Services, wrote on Twitter . “SAR should be the beginning of the analysis, not the end. We must act.