FinCEN Issues Advisory on Widespread Public Corruption in Venezuela

FinCEN Issues Advisory on Widespread Public Corruption in Venezuela

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released an advisory on September 20, 2017, to alert financial institutions of widespread public corruption in Venezuela and the methods Venezuelan senior political figures may use to move and hide corruption proceeds.1

The advisory also identified red flags that may assist financial institutions in identifying suspicious activity that may be indicative of Venezuelan corruption, including the abuse of Venezuelan government contracts, wire transfers from shell corporations, and real estate purchases in the South Florida and Houston, Texas regions. The FinCEN advisory also reminds financial institutions of their obligations to monitor, detect, and report such conduct.

Background

Venezuela has been in political and economic turmoil due to the deterioration of its democratic and constitutional order. FinCEN warns that widespread corruption may further destabilize its economic growth and stability. In recent years, financial institutions have reported to FinCEN suspicions that transactions may be linked to Venezuelan public corruption, including government contracts. As a result of these reports and other relevant information, FinCEN considers all Venezuelan government agencies and bodies, including state owned enterprises (SOEs), vulnerable to public corruption and money laundering. According to FinCEN, the Venezuelan government appears to use its control over large parts of the economy to enrich government officials and SOE executives, their families, and associates. FinCEN, therefore, believes that there exists a high risk of corruption involving Venezuelan government officials and employees at all levels, including those managing or working at Venezuelan SOEs.2

FinCEN warns that transactions involving Venezuelan government agencies and SOEs, particularly those involving government contracts, can potentially be used as vehicles to move, launder, and conceal embezzled corruption proceeds. SOEs and their officials may also try to use the U.S. financial system to move or hide proceeds of public corruption. In an effort to thwart the movement of these proceeds, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has recently designated as persons engaged in, or materially assisting, sponsoring, or supporting, public corruption various Venezuelan SOEs, including: National Center for Foreign Commerce (CENCOEX), Suministros Venezolanos Industriales, CA (SUVINCA), the Foreign Trade Bank (BANCOEX), the National Telephone Company (CANTV), the National Electric Corporation (CORPELEC), and the Venezuelan Economic and Social Bank (BANDES). As scrutiny of these enterprises increases, FinCEN warns financial institutions that corrupt officials may try to channel illicit proceeds through lesser-known or newly-created SOEs.

FinCEN also identified red flags that may help financial institutions identify corrupt schemes:

  • Transactions involving Venezuelan government contracts that are directed to personal accounts;
  • Transactions involving Venezuelan government contracts that are directed to companies that operate in an unrelated line of business (e.g., payments for construction projects directed to textile merchants);
  • Transactions involving Venezuelan government contracts that originate with, or are directed to, entities that are shell corporations, general “trading companies,” or companies that lack a general business purpose;
  • Documentation corroborating transactions involving Venezuelan government contracts (e.g., invoices) that include charges at substantially higher prices than market rates or that include overly simple documentation or lack traditional details (e.g., valuations for goods and services). Venezuelan officials who receive preferential access to U.S. dollars at the more favorable, official exchange rate may exploit this multi-tier exchange rate system for profit;
  • Payments involving Venezuelan government contracts that originate from non-official Venezuelan accounts, particularly accounts located in jurisdictions outside of Venezuela (e.g., Panama or the Caribbean);
  • Payments involving Venezuelan government contracts that originate from third parties that are not official Venezuelan government entities;
  • Cash deposits instead of wire transfers into the accounts of companies with Venezuelan government contracts;
  • Transactions for the purchase of real estate—primarily in the South Florida and Houston, Texas regions—involving current or former Venezuelan government officials, family members or associates that are not commensurate with their official salaries; and
  • Corrupt Venezuelan government officials seeking to abuse a U.S. or foreign bank’s wealth management units by using complex financial transactions to move and hide corruption proceeds.

Impact and Regulatory Obligations

The recent FinCEN advisory also reminds U.S. financial institutions that in order to meet their due diligence obligations that would apply to activity involving certain Venezuelan persons, they should generally be aware of public reports of high-level corruption associated with senior Venezuelan foreign political figures and those associated with them; they should assess the risk of laundering the proceeds of public corruption associated with specific particular customers and transactions; and they should be aware of OFAC designations related to Venezuela.

FinCEN also recommends that financial institutions take reasonable, risk-based steps to identify and limit any exposure they may have to funds and other assets associated with Venezuelan public corruption, taking care not to put into question a financial institution’s ability to maintain or continue otherwise appropriate relationships with customers or other financial institutions. FinCEN warns, however, that such steps should not be used as the basis to engage in wholesale or indiscriminate de-risking of any class of customers or financial institutions.

The FinCEN advisory also reminds financial institutions of the applicable regulatory obligations that are intended to facilitate the discovery and disclosure of attempts to move and hide corruption proceeds from Venezuela:

  • Enhanced Due Diligence Obligations for Private Bank Accounts: Covered financial institutions maintaining private banking accounts for senior foreign political figures are required to apply enhanced scrutiny of such accounts to detect and report transactions that may involve the proceeds of foreign corruption, consistent with obligations under Section 312 of the USA PATRIOT Act (31 U.S.C. § 5318(i)) and FinCEN’s regulations implementing that Section.
  • General Obligations for Correspondent Account Due Diligence Money Laundering (AML) Programs: U.S. financial institutions must comply with their general due diligence and AML obligations,3 ensuring that their due diligence programs, which address correspondent accounts maintained for foreign financial institutions, include appropriate, specific, risk-based, and, where necessary, enhanced policies, procedures, and controls that are reasonably designed to detect and report known or suspected money laundering activity involving accounts in the United States.
  • Suspicious Activity Reporting: A financial institution is required to file a suspicious activity report (SAR) if it knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect a transaction involves funds derived from illegal activity, or attempts to disguise funds derived from illegal activity; is designed to evade regulations promulgated under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA); lacks a business or apparent lawful purpose; or involves the use of the financial institution to facilitate criminal activity, including foreign corruption.

Conclusion

FinCEN emphasizes that reports and information from financial institutions are critical to stopping, deterring, and preventing the proceeds tied to suspected Venezuelan public corruption from moving through the U.S. financial system. Accordingly, companies should remain vigilant of these risks and ensure their due diligence and monitoring programs are up-to-date and comply with all relevant regulatory obligations.

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=1b0f91d1-43b9-4031-83e7-fbf2ed5768ab

Three Orlando area lawyers suspended, including former Cay Clubs attorney

Three Orlando area lawyers have been suspended in the most recent action by the Florida Bar, including one that provided legal advice to the Cay Clubs Ponzi scheme in the Florida Keys.

The following details were provided by the Florida Bar and court records:

William Scott Callahan, Winter Park, was suspended for one year, retroactive to April 20. Callahan was subpoenaed and agreed to cooperate in a federal fraud investigation involving the Cay Clubs vacation rental scheme. He had been a partner at a law firm that handled closings for the company. In the course of his duties supervising the closing agents, Callahan violated Bar rules.

According to court records, Callahan made misleading statements, and when he learned the principals of the company were omitting pertinent information from the closing documents, he failed to warn them, failed to obtain additional legal opinions and failed to withdraw from further representation. Callahan received immunity from prosecution in return for providing information. (Florida Supreme Court Case No. SC17-539)

Michael Kevin Rathel, Orlando, suspended for one year. According to the Florida Bar and court records, Rathel bought a house after persuading the seller to hold a second mortgage for $100,000 needed by Rathel to pay the purchase price. Rathel promised to repay the seller and pledged his current home as security for the mortgage. Rathel sold his current home without telling the seller or repaying the seller’s second mortgage. Commencing in or about 2010, Rathel failed to file and pay his personal federal and corporate tax returns in a timely manner. In another matter, Rathel failed to timely respond to an inquiry about a Bar complaint. Suspension is effective 30 days from a March 23 court order. (FSC Case No. SC16-1024)

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-bz-florida-bar-suspensions-20170530-story.html

Photo: Florida Bar

 

U.S. judge approves $2.6 billion fine for Odebrecht in corruption case

A U.S. judge on Monday sentenced Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht SA to pay $2.6 billion in fines in a massive criminal corruption case, signing off on a plea deal between the company and U.S., Brazilian and Swiss authorities.

U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie said at a hearing in Brooklyn federal court that about $93 million will go to the United States, $2.39 billion to Brazil and $116 million to Switzerland.

Odebrecht, along with affiliated petrochemical company Braskem SA, pleaded guilty to U.S. bribery charges in December. U.S. authorities charged Odebrecht with paying about $788 million in bribes to officials in 12 countries, mostly in Latin America, to secure lucrative contracts.

Some of those bribes flowed through U.S. banks, the prosecutors said.

Monday’s order comes as Odebrecht tries to negotiate plea deals with other countries, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama and Portugal.

A public relations executive working for Odebrecht in São Paulo declined to comment, as did William Burck, a lawyer for Odebrecht in the United States.

The charges against Odebrecht stemmed from a nearly three-year investigation in Brazil into corruption at the state-run oil company Petrobras, which has led to dozens of arrests and political upheaval in Brazil.

Brazilian President Michel Temer said on Monday he expects some of his ministers to resign after they were accused of wrongdoing by Odebrecht executives in plea bargain testimonies and placed under investigation by a Supreme Court justice.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-corruption-usa-idUSKBN17J1A7

Photo: Reuters 

 

Ex-South Korean president Park Geun-hye arrested in corruption probe

Ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been arrested and taken into custody over a corruption scandal that led to her dismissal.

The 65-year-old was driven to a detention centre south of Seoul after a court approved her arrest.

She is accused of allowing her close friend Choi Soon-sil to extort money from companies, including Samsung, in return for political favours.

Ms Park, who was removed from office earlier this month, denies the claims.

She is the third former president of South Korea to be arrested over criminal allegations, Yonhap reports.

The Seoul Central District Court earlier issued a warrant to detain Ms Park while she is investigated on charges of bribery, abuse of authority, coercion and leaking government secrets.

It followed a nearly nine-hour court hearing on Thursday that Ms Park attended.

“It is justifiable and necessary to arrest [Ms Park] as key charges were justified and there is risk of evidence being destroyed,” the court said in a statement.

Live television footage showed a black sedan carrying her to the detention facility from the prosecutor’s office where she had been waiting.

Despite the early hour, some 50 supporters, waving national flags and demanding her release, were at the gate to greet her, the AFP news agency reports.

Ms Park can be held for up to 20 days before being formally charged.

If convicted she could face more than 10 years in prison.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39449681

Photo: EPA

Navy bribery scandal widens as more sordid details emerge

Officers in a burgeoning Navy bribery scandal called themselves the Lion King’s Harem, the Wolfpack, the Cool Kids and the Brotherhood. They scouted for others who might also accept sex, trips and other lavish perks from a Malaysian defense contractor known as “Fat Leonard” in exchange for classified information.

Allegations outlined in an indictment unsealed in San Diego on Tuesday give more details in the 3-year-old scandal that had appeared to be fading before re-emerging even bigger and more sordid than before.

Nine current and former military officers were charged in the latest indictment, including a recently retired rear admiral who collected foreign intelligence for the Navy’s Seventh Fleet.

It gives an extensive list of bribes to the officers from 2006 to 2012 from Leonard Francis in exchange for classified shipping schedules and other information to help his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia. In one example, a party with prostitutes at the Manila Hotel’s MacArthur Suite during a 2007 port call to the Philippines included sex acts using historic MacArthur memorabilia.

One meal during a 2006 port visit to Hong Kong cost $20,435. A dinner during a port call to Singapore that year featured foie gras, oxtail soup, cognac that cost about $2,000 a bottle and cigars at $2,000 a box.

Prosecutors say Francis, who is nicknamed Fat Leonard for his wide girth, bilked the Navy out of nearly $35 million, largely by overcharging for his company’s services supplying Navy ships in the Pacific with food, water, fuel and other necessities.

Navy officers provided classified information to Francis that helped him beat competitors and, in some instances, commanders steered ships to ports in the Pacific where his company could charge fake tariffs and fees, prosecutors said.

The latest indictment raises the number of current and former officials charged to 20 in one of the Navy’s worst corruption scandals. Bruce Loveless, who recently retired, became the second admiral charged in the investigation.

Adm. John Richardson, the Navy’s top officer, vowed Tuesday to repair damage caused by the scandal.

“This behavior is inconsistent with our standards and the expectations the nation has for us as military professionals,” he said. “It damages the trust that the nation places in us, and is an embarrassment to the Navy.”

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/navy-bribery-scandal-widens-sordid-details-emerge-46137785

Photo: Associated Press