Hiding in plain sight: Why Hong Kong is a preferred spot for North Korea’s money launderers

By Joshua Berlinger, CNN

http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/16/asia/hong-kong-north-korea/index.html

Hong Kong (CNN)Easey Commercial Building is an unassuming mid-rise office tower on Hennessy Road, an artery that runs through Hong Kong’s busy Wan Chai district. The structure sits among scenery that’s classic Hong Kong: bright lights, tall buildings, people rushing about.

But camouflaged in the normalcy is a business that seemingly exists in name only.
At least, Unaforte is supposed to be there. That is the address listed on its publicly available corporate filings provided to the Hong Kong government. When CNN visited the office, it found neither Unaforte nor its listed company secretary, Prolive Consultants Limited.
Instead, room 2103 was home to a seemingly unrelated company: Cheerful Best Company Services. Only one man was there when CNN stopped by, and he said a representative for Prolive Consultants only comes by every so often to pick up mail. He had not heard of Unaforte.
The United Nations Panel of Experts on North Korea — the body charged with monitoring sanctions enforcement on the hermit nation — said in two recent reports that Unaforte opened and owned a bank in the North Korean city of Rason. That is likely a violation of the latest UN Security Council resolution banning joint international ventures with North Korea, according to Christopher Wall, a lawyer who specializes in international trade law and a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in Washington, DC.
Unaforte is not unique. It’s just one of a handful of front companies identified by the United Nations, nongovernmental analysts and US law enforcement that help North Korea access the global financial system.
Front companies — also known as shell companies — are legitimate corporations that do not possess significant assets or maintain active business operations. Some serve licit business purposes — helping foreign companies establish a foothold in overseas markets, for one, or reap foreign tax benefits. Others help to conceal the true ownership of a business or the parties involved in illicit transactions.
Here’s an example: say business A wants to sell business B something potentially unlawful, like military-grade hardware. If investigators were already monitoring business A, business B could pay a front company for the weapons instead of business A. Or business B could create its own front company to pay business A’s front company, making the network even bigger and more nebulous.
North Korea is believed to use these types of practices to cover up much of its trade, from selling coal and fuel to exporting weapons.
“The (North Korean) regime accesses the international financial system through front companies and other deceptive financial practices in order to buy goods and services abroad,” Sigal Mandelker, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the US Department of the Treasury, said in Senate testimony on September 28.
Hong Kong is one of two business jurisdictions (along with the British Virgin Islands) where the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea has seen the largest share of North Korean-controlled front companies operating, said Hugh Griffiths, the panel’s coordinator.
“You can just count them up in our reports — Hong Kong is the preponderance,” Griffiths told CNN.
The city is no stranger to those looking to make a quick buck by skirting the law, whether it was the pirates who roamed the South China Sea in the 16th century or the Triads who spread their tentacles following Chinese Civil War, while the city was still under British control.
Today, Hong Kong is governed as a special administrative region of China. When the British handed control of the city to Beijing in 1997, the agreement was to run Hong Kong according to a policy known as “one country, two systems.” It promised Hong Kongers their own political system — with more individual liberties, market freedoms and lax corporate oversight and reporting requirements — would in large part continue as is, but Hong Kong would become part of China.
“It should come as no surprise that Hong Kong is featured so prominently in our report,” Griffiths said. “It’s the closest major international financial center to North Korea. It’s the closest major offshore international financial center to North Korea. And historically, it’s been a center of global and regional trade … and with fewer questions asked and looser regulation than, say, Beijing.”
CNN reached out to both Hong Kong police and its Joint Financial Intelligence Unit for comment on the United Nations reports, Unaforte and shell companies in Hong Kong altogether and was told “police do not comment on individual case(s).”

A secretary and a director

When Unaforte’s company particulars show up in Hong Kong’s publicly available corporate records, the name of just one individual appears. He holds a passport from the small Caribbean island of Dominica. A passport number is there, but not a phone number.
Those details shed light on Hong Kong’s incorporation requirements. To start a company in Hong Kong, one needs at least one director (has to be an actual person) and a company secretary (which can either be a person or another company, but must be based in Hong Kong), according to the Companies Registry website.
Though the company’s registered office must be in Hong Kong, they are allowed to share an office with their company secretary and neither technically has to operate out of that address, an official with the Hong Kong Companies Registry told CNN on the phone. But doing that is considered a “red flag” for money laundering investigators.
“These practices, while legal, lend themselves to North Korean efforts to camouflage the real identity and nationality of those who stand behind these registered entities,” said Griffiths.
C4ADS, a Washington-based nonprofit firm which conducts data-driven analysis of security issues, identified 160 North Korean front companies in Hong Kong in a 2016 report. And Sayari Analytics, another firm that uses open data to monitor the connections between firms, has identified more than 100 entities in Hong Kong linked to sanctioned North Korean ones.
The system wasn’t designed for wrongdoing; rather, it makes Hong Kong an easy place for companies abroad do business, as they do not have to incur the cost of setting up a new shop, according to David Webb, a former investment banker who is now a Hong Kong-based activist investor.
“It’s common and it’s not a sign of wrongdoing itself,” Webb said.
To service offshore clients, there are plenty of secretarial services that provide company directors abroad with assistance. They often serve as company secretaries for their clients.
Prolive Consultants, the company secretary for Unaforte, appears to be one such company.
“As a company that offers secretarial services, we do not interfere with our clients’ business. What we do is just to help collect clients’ business registration certificates and forms, assist them,” said Amy Lam with Prolive Consultants, whose phone number CNN obtained after visiting the Easey Building office.
When asked by CNN what type of business Unaforte is engaged in, Lam said: “We do not interfere with what kind of business our client does. Whether they are successful or not, or whether their business is profitable or not, we don’t know.”

Ledgers and credits

The sale of about $6 million worth of refined sugar in 2009 helped bring another company doing business with Pyongyang to the attention of American authorities.
North Korea was ostensibly doing something simple: buying a food staple. But they did it through a complicated, labyrinthine transaction involving North Korea, Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development (DHID), a bank and a Canadian company, according to a 2016 criminal complaint.
That’s because if companies like DHID or Unaforte are doing business in dollars, it means their transactions are likely to go through the United States at some point (unless they’re conducted in cash).
Companies that are sanctioned in most cases cannot easily conduct transactions in the dollar, as US banks have to back those deals and would filter and flag sanctioned entities, Anthony Ruggiero, an expert in the use of targeted financial measures at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told CNN.
The DHID charges revealed that to get around US prying eyes, North Korea uses a complex ledger and credit scheme to hide North Korea’s involvement in dollar transactions, Ruggiero explained to Congress in September.
Thirteen of DHID’s front companies were located in Hong Kong. Eleven shared the same registered address in Wan Chai, less than a kilometer away from the Easey Commercial Building, the indictment said.

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

A True Tale of Drug Cartels, Money Laundering and Horse Racing

A True Tale of Drug Cartels, Money Laundering and Horse Racing

By 

In September 2010, bettors at the All American Futurity race in New Mexico watched the long-shot Mr. Piloto gallop to the million-dollar first prize by less than a nose, the second-closest win in the race’s history. Meanwhile, over the border in Mexico, a gang of drug traffickers from the Zetas cartel cheered the victory with whiskey, from a safe house. Mr. Piloto was registered to the company of a Dallas bricklayer named José Treviño Morales, but the money to buy him had come from his brother Miguel Treviño, alias “El Cuarenta,” a Zeta boss blamed for some of the worst massacres in Mexico’s drug war. Bloodstained dollars had gone from American drug users over the Rio Grande to cartel killers, and then back north into the American racing industry.

The true-life tale of the Zetas’ foray into quarter horses is masterfully recounted by the journalist Joe Tone in his debut book, “Bones.” He shines a light on an often overlooked corner of the blood bath ravaging Mexico: how cartel money is laundered in the United States. In this case, federal agents finally busted the operation, seizing more than 400 “narco horses,” which they auctioned off for $12 million. But with Americans estimated to spend $100 billion a year on illegal drugs, this is probably just the tip of an iceberg.

Photo

Miguel Treviño MoralesCreditU.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

In addition to following the drug money, Tone has found a great yarn. His finely-painted cast of characters includes a rookie F.B.I. agent hungry to make his name, a Texas cowboy fighting to keep his family business afloat and a talented Mexican horseman picking winners for a very dangerous boss. Tone weaves the threads together with skillful pacing and sharp prose, marking him as an important new talent in narrative nonfiction.

He is helped along by ample documentation of the case. While much of the narco world remains in the shadows, Treviño and his cronies were brought to trial in Austin, in 2013, in one of the most extensive lawsuits against a Mexican cartel to be heard in an American courtroom. (Major Mexican traffickers often don’t go to trial, because they cut deals.) Even though he builds on the reporting of Ginger Thompson, who broke the story in The New York Times, Tone adds some vivid details, recounting wiretapped phone calls and drawing the full back story from Lawson, the rookie F.B.I. agent who pursued the case. “Lawson could hear the horses if he listened closely,” Tone writes. “He was standing outside the black-iron gate with the horse silhouettes, at the bottom of a long driveway that led up to José’s brick homestead. It was a little after six in the morning, the earliest moment the court would allow them to raid without a judge’s permission.”

Photo

Tone digs deep into the colorful world of quarter-horse racing, a variant of the sport developed by white cowboys, Mexican ranchers and Native Americans. He also shows how some players in the horse industry reaped the drug money and went on to enjoy their profits; how those arrested were all Hispanic while some white horsemen doing similar things remained free; how José Treviño’s daughter, a college student who married a Marine, was caught up in the sweep.

Like many journalists of the drug war, Tone sheds doubt on the whole strategy of fighting the trade. “Better answers might lie in the halls of American power and influence — in the way drugs are regulated, drug users treated, drug traffickers sentenced.” He is right to push for more debate on how to stop the billions of drug dollars from funding the crime armies tearing Mexico apart. But law enforcement agents still need to keep hacking at the tentacles of cartel finances that stretch through the United States, where the blood wealth of narcos could be right before your eyes.

TRANSACTION LAUNDERING: CONTINUING ITS EVOLUTION

TRANSACTION LAUNDERING: CONTINUING ITS EVOLUTION

In mid-January, Global RADAR reported on the growth of transaction laundering, a troubling trend that began gaining relevance at the international level beginning roughly one year ago. Defined in a basic sense as the action whereby one e-commerce merchant processes payment card transactions on behalf of another merchant, transaction laundering (TL) is commonly viewed as a more sophisticated form of money laundering and has emerged as one of the largest threats facing the financial services sector today. Transaction laundering is also becoming the primary means for the funding of dangerous terrorist activities due to the relative ease at which the process can be undertaken and performed successfully. Unfortunately for financial institutions conducting business both domestically and abroad, federal regulators have turned up the metaphorical heat in regards to the strict compliance requirements banks of all sizes have been subjected to in recent years. The imposition of multi-million dollar fines against organizations with anti-money laundering (AML) failures has become commonplace of late, and the risks involved with the respective failures to detect and prevent illicit financial activity have only increased with the arrival of new, pervasive criminal measures.

Since our last update on this topic, the transaction laundering trend has continued to grow, both in prevalence and scope of practice. The article “The growing threat of transaction laundering”, cited in BSA News Now on September 20th, 2017, discusses the fundamentals involved with the new features of the practice, and touches on additional areas that surround the issue, such as the response by federal regulators to transaction laundering, and the overall scale of activities of this nature. The article notes, “The biggest transaction launderers are the purveyors of counterfeit merchandise, illegal drugs, sex services, and Internet casinos operating without a license” (Reuters, 2017). Through this practice, fake merchants are able to direct unauthorized transactions into legitimate payment networks while avoiding detection by both regulators and payment processors themselves in some cases. As was covered in the general definition provided earlier, front companies are one of the principal means used to cover for criminal activities, but pass-through companies and the use of funnel accounts have also grown in usage over the course of 2017. Pass-through companies function by processing credit card receipts for illicit activity through the use of a legitimate company’s payments processing account. The author writes that “this is done by embedding a payment link on the illegitimate company’s website and then manually entering the illicit sales into the payment system to make them harder to detect” (Reuters, 2017). Funnel accounts work by accepting credit card charges from companies engaged in illegal activity, and essentially entering legitimate payments for these companies on their own payment processing system.

The amount of laundered payments has continued to escalate, especially with the incorporation of these criminal efforts of this nature. Statistics provided in the article from the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) show that “50%-70% of online sales for illicit drugs, counterfeit goods, and unlawful adult content involve some form of transaction laundering” (Reuters, 2017). Additionally, transaction laundering is also used by nearly 95% of illegal gambling websites to add card receipts into the payment system, a practice that reportedly accounts for billions of dollars annually. These striking findings have not gone unnoticed however, as the payments industry is beginning to introduce new measures to combat these illicit practices, and regulators have stepped up enforcement as well. As a result, the Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department that combats domestic and international money laundering, terror financing, and financial crimes overall, has begun to crack down on financial institutions that use third-party payment processors. The article discusses one of a slew of measures developed by FinCEN to better establish beneficial ownership. In this circumstance, “FinCEN requires financial institutions (FIs) to verify the identities of all nominees with a 25% or greater ownership stake in any company for which they open an account” (Reuters, 2017). Regulators have had to adapt to these new forms of fraud, leading to increased fines and greater restrictions imposed on financial institutions, which have made navigating through the already complex realm of compliance even more complicated for banks and their respective compliance departments.

Although new methods of fraud detection and prevention continue to be developed in the financial industry, criminals are quick to adapt and alter their own approach to capitalize on loopholes and areas that can be exploited.  One of the only ways to detect and prevent transaction laundering is to do your due diligence into a merchant’s website, their volume of business, and other areas such as age of the website and merchant codes used. These screening of these areas are often covered by comprehensive, automated AML services however, so research and investment into one of these technologies can ultimately be quite beneficial to financial institutions, and in the fight against transaction and money laundering altogether.

 

WEEKLY ROUNDUP

 

CRYPTOCURRENCIES CALLED OUT BY BIG BANK CEO

Earlier this week at a banking conference in New York, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, openly denounced cybercurrencies such as the ultra-popular Bitcoin that have taken the world by storm in recent years. In candid fashion, Dimon shared his critical opinion of the growing industry, stating his firm belief that the currency is a “fraud” that will inevitably fail because “you can’t have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think that people who are buying it are really smart” (Athow, 2017). Dimon points to the greater sense of anonymity provided to individuals through Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency options as one of several potentially problematic components that would benefit financial criminals attempting to launder funds without being apprehended.

Dimon’s comments have angered the masses in the crypto-community, as many have found the seasoned financial veteran’s views to be antiquated and uneducated in this regard. The executive’s comments are also ironic considering that they come from someone who runs a financial intermediary, the same entities that are being removed from financial transactions made through various cybercurrencies. The comments were also surprising in that while “Mr.Dimon openly criticizes Bitcoin, JP Morgan is quietly advancing its own, proprietary crypto ledger, Quorum” which is based on the cyber currency Ethereum (Athow, 2017). Regardless of the strange circumstances that surround this criticism, many believe that the comments that came from an individual as renowned as Dimon had a significant negative impact on the 6% drop in the value of Bitcoin seen last week. We will simply have to wait to see if the effects of these comments continue to bring about more negative outcomes in the coming weeks, or if this instance was simply a blip on the radar for a currency steered for long-term success.

 

SCAMS EMERGING FOLLOWING HURRICANES

Following the tragic hurricanes that wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, United States, and other parts of the world in the last month, a post-storm period generally designated for recovery and aid can often be a time of great profit for scammers and financial criminals preying on the weak and naïve. A report from Forbes highlights several scams that criminals often employ in their attempts to con the victims of natural disasters and other catastrophic events. The primary areas exploited following disasters have been found to be charities and donation services. The Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud recently “issued a statement to the public to be aware of fraudulent activity related to relief operations and funding for victims”, as a reported “743 domain names containing the phrase ‘Irma’ and most include a combination of the words ‘help,’ ‘relief,’ ‘victims,’ ‘recover,’ ‘claims,’ or ‘lawsuits’” were registered as of September 7th, according to The Center of Internet Security (Peck, 2017). Crowd-funding pages are commonly created to raise money for victims, but unfortunately in many cases these funds never make it to those that are in need. Many believe that more of these potentially-malicious domains are likely to arise in the coming weeks as more hurricanes are on the horizon.

Other scams commonly run by criminals are the posing as insurance representatives, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials, and local power company employees in attempts to con citizens out of funds and valuable information. In addition, individuals often offer help with unlicensed home repairs and other services, only to never perform the service(s) after being paid up-front. The article offers solutions to many of these issues however, including verifying the licensing information of individuals arriving at your home or business, avoiding making cash donations (as legit charities almost never require cash payments), and exercising caution and always researching an individual and/or organization before donating.

 

SEVERE LAUNDERING OCCURRING IN AUSTRALIAN BANKS

Earlier this week, Australian federal and state investigators revealed the findings of their recent investigations into regional financial crime that do not bode well for the financial services sector, nor the major banks of Australia. The investigations discovered that “Australian crime gangs launder up to $5 million AUD ($4 million USD) per day through major banks”, due in large part to failures seen in the anti-money laundering procedures found within these respective institutions (Southurst, 2017). The findings involve Australia’s four largest banks: Commonwealth Bank (CBA), ANZ, National Australia Bank (NAB) and Westpac. Commonwealth Bank in particular has been the subject of international headlines recently due to the severe civil penalties the organization faced earlier this summer for allegedly allowing hundreds of millions of Australian dollars to be laundered by way of cash deposits made through the intelligent deposit machines that the bank employs.

In addition to the shocking laundering findings, it has also been reported by local media outlets that Aussie “crime syndicate members have acquired franchises in mid-tier banks, like Bendigo Bank and Bank of Queensland” (Southurst, 2017). Many of these issues fall on failures within compliance departments, specifically in regards to know your customer (KYC) requirements that are not being met, and a lack of information sharing amongst regional financial institutions and law enforcements agencies. In addition, the creation of shell companies to facilitate the movement of illicit funds has made the task of keeping up with this activity very difficult for banks with fully-functional and adequate compliance departments, let alone smaller banks that have far fewer AML capabilities at their disposal. Unfortunately, this now-negative connotation that accompanies Australian banks has led to an increased sense of public mistrust in the world’s sixth largest country, with a resolution to these issues currently being nowhere in sight.

 

CITATIONS

Athow, Desire. “JP Morgan CEO Publicly Denounces Bitcoin as ‘currency for

Criminals’.” TechRadar. TechRadar Pro IT Insights for Business, 15 Sept. 2017. Web.

Liu, Winnie. “The Growing Threat of Transaction Laundering.” Dealbreaker.

Thomson Reuters, 19 Sept. 2017. Web.

Peck, Liz Frazier. “In The Wake Of Harvey, Irma And Equifax – 3 Strategies Criminals

Are Using To Run Scams.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 14 Sept. 2017. Web.

Southurst, Jon. “Gangs Launder $4 Million a Day Through Aussie Banks:

Police.” Bitsonline. 15 Sept. 2017. Web.

BITCOIN AND BLOCKCHAIN: A RUSSIAN MONEY LAUNDERING BONANZA?

Nobody does the dark side of the internet better than the Russians. From AllOfMP3.com, once the world’s most popular piracy site, to the campaign to disrupt the U.S. presidential election, Moscow’s hackers have long been world leaders in cybercrime. So it’s no wonder Russian computer geniuses are heavily involved in the internet’s latest craze: virtual currency. And it’s not just attracting cybercriminals—the Kremlin wants to get in on the cryptocurrency revolution by issuing state-backed “bit-ruble.”

Azeri Rulers Accused of $3 Billion Money-Laundering Scheme

Azerbaijan was accused of running a 2.5 billion euro ($3 billion) scheme to pay off European politicians, launder money and buy luxury goods, allegations that prompted the government to block an investigative-reporting project’s website.

The so-called “Azerbaijani Laundromat” was uncovered in a joint investigation by 17 European media organizations including the Guardianand Le Monde and was published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, known as OCCRP. Azeri authorities blocked access to the OCCRP’s website after the report was published.

Banking records of transactions via four U.K.-registered shell companies showed that “members of the country’s ruling elite were using a secret slush fund” to make the payments and purchases as well as “launder money, and otherwise benefit themselves,” the OCCRP said. The records were leaked to the Danish newspaper Berlingske, which shared them with other media and the OCCRP, according to the report.

“Among other things, the money bought silence,” the OCCRP said. During this period, the government “threw more than 90 human rights activists, opposition politicians, and journalists such as OCCRP journalist Khadija Ismayilova into prison on politically motivated charges.”

At least three European politicians and a journalist who wrote stories friendly to the Azeri government were among recipients of the money, it said. While the precise origin of the funds was hidden behind a series of secretive shell companies, there’s “ample evidence” of its connection to the Aliyev family, according to the report.

‘Shell Company’

Almost half of the 2.5 billion euros came from an account held in the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan by a “mysterious shell company linked to the Aliyevs,” the OCCRP reported. Two offshore companies with “direct connections to a regime insider” were the second and third biggest contributors, according to its report.

Neither the president nor members of his family have anything to do with the alleged scheme, Aliyev’s office said in a statement carried by the state news agency Azartac. The accusations are “totally groundless, biased and provocative,” according to the statement.

The IBA last week completed restructuring of $3.3 billion of foreign debt after defaulting in May. The bank’s former director, Jahangir Haciyev, was sentenced to 15 years in prison last year for embezzlement and abuse of office, charges he denied.

 

4 arrests in Metro Detroit drug, human trafficking ring

Four people were arrested in connection with an alleged opioid drug and human trafficking operation based in Metro Detroit, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said Tuesday.

The group — identified as Melvin Niblett, Corey Cooper, Maurice Rushton and Jasmin McGinnis — was identified through a probe that launched in September, when the joint FBI and Oakland County Gang and Violent Crimes task force received a tip about a suspected drug and prostitution ring in Madison Heights.

Niblett and Cooper were caught selling drugs in Warren and charged in a separate but related case by the Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, the Attorney General’s Office said.

They both later were released on bond. But in October, police learned Niblett was reportedly using rooms at a Southfield hotel to lead a drug and human trafficking operation with dozens of others, authorities allege.

“Drug and human trafficking continue to plague the safety of many communities in Michigan,” FBI Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios said in a statement. “Today’s arrests reflect the continuing impact federal, state and local law enforcement are having on the ability of criminals to victimize and enslave others through their addiction to a variety of dangerous and sometimes lethal drugs.”

All four arrested have been charged with 24 felonies, including conducting a criminal enterprise, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and $100,000, Schuette’s office said Tuesday.

An Aug. 21 preliminary examination is scheduled for Cooper, 45, Niblett, 38, of Southfield, and McGinnis, a 27-year-old from Canton Township. Rushton, 57, who was apprehended in Ohio, awaits extradition.

“The individuals involved in this human and drug trafficking ring will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said Tuesday. “The victims deserve justice and I am proud of our task force members who partnered with the attorney general and other agencies to send a clear message that these types of crimes will not be tolerated in our community.”

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.detroitnews.com/amp/104640802

FinCEN Fines BTC-e Virtual Currency Exchange $110 Million for Facilitating Ransomware, Dark Net Drug Sales

WASHINGTON—The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), working in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, assessed a $110,003,314 civil money penalty today against BTC-e a/k/a Canton Business Corporation (BTC-e) for willfully violating U.S. anti-money laundering (AML) laws. Russian national Alexander Vinnik, one of the operators of BTC-e, was arrested in Greece this week, and FinCEN assessed a $12 million penalty against him for his role in the violations.

BTC-e is an internet-based, foreign-located money transmitter that exchanges fiat currency as well as the convertible virtual currencies Bitcoin, Litecoin, Namecoin, Novacoin, Peercoin, Ethereum, and Dash. It is one of the largest virtual currency exchanges by volume in the world. BTC-e facilitated transactions involving ransomware, computer hacking, identity theft, tax refund fraud schemes, public corruption, and drug trafficking.

“We will hold accountable foreign-located money transmitters, including virtual currency exchangers, that do business in the United States when they willfully violate U.S. anti-money laundering laws,” said Jamal El-Hindi, Acting Director for FinCEN. “This action should be a strong deterrent to anyone who thinks that they can facilitate ransomware, dark net drug sales, or conduct other illicit activity using encrypted virtual currency. Treasury’s FinCEN team and our law enforcement partners will work with foreign counterparts across the globe to appropriately oversee virtual currency exchangers and administrators who attempt to subvert U.S. law and avoid complying with U.S. AML safeguards.”

FinCEN acted in coordination with law enforcement’s seizure of BTC-e and Vinnik’s arrest. The Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Secret Service, and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the criminal investigation.

Among other violations, BTC-e failed to obtain required information from customers beyond a username, a password, and an e-mail address. Instead of acting to prevent money laundering, BTC-e and its operators embraced the pervasive criminal activity conducted at the exchange. Users openly and explicitly discussed criminal activity on BTC-e’s user chat. BTC-e’s customer service representatives offered advice on how to process and access money obtained from illegal drug sales on dark net markets like Silk Road, Hansa Market, and AlphaBay.

BTC-e also processed transactions involving funds stolen between 2011 and 2014 from one of the world’s largest bitcoin exchanges, Mt. Gox. BTC-e processed over 300,000 bitcoin in transactions traceable to the theft. FinCEN has also identified at least $3 million of facilitated transactions tied to ransomware attacks such as “Cryptolocker” and “Locky.” Further, BTC-e shared customers and conducted transactions with the now-defunct money laundering website Liberty Reserve. FinCEN previously issued a finding under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act that identified Liberty Reserve as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern.

BTC-e has conducted over $296 million in transactions of bitcoin alone and tens of thousands of transactions in other convertible virtual currencies. The transactions included funds sent from customers located within the United States to recipients who were also located within the United States. BTC-e also concealed its geographic location and its ownership. Regardless of its ownership or location, the company was required to comply with U.S. AML laws and regulations as a foreign-located MSB including AML program, MSB registration, suspicious activity reporting, and recordkeeping requirements. This is the second supervisory enforcement action FinCEN has taken against a business that operates as an exchanger of virtual currency, and the first it has taken against a foreign-located MSB doing business in the United States.

https://www.fincen.gov/news/news-releases/fincen-fines-btc-e-virtual-currency-exchange-110-million-facilitating-ransomware

 

 

Man indicted after selling fentanyl on ‘dark net’ that caused fatal overdose, feds say

A man was indicted Thursday after federal prosecutors say he sold synthetic fentanyl that caused an Orange County man to die of an overdose.

Jeremy Achey 43, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, faces up to life in federal prison if convicted.

Achey is accused of selling a variety of synthetic substances over the “dark net,” an area of the Internet only accessible through the use of an encrypted browsing platform, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In February, an Orange County man, whose name wasn’t released, died after taking tetrahydrofuran fentanyl, a synthetic substance similar to fentanyl, federal prosecutors said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration determined that the man bought the substance from Achey, who was using the name “Etiking” online, according to the indictment.

Achey is facing charges of conspiracy to distribute and distribution of controlled substance analogues.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/breaking-news/os-jeremy-achey-arrest-dark-web-fentanyl-20170720-story.html

 

 

Cuban man accused of laundering $238 million in Medicare payments must face trial

A Cuban businessman charged with laundering $238 million in illicit Medicare payments through South Florida will have to face trial now that a federal judge has rejected his motion to dismiss a massive money laundering case against him.

The motion by Jorge Emilio Perez de Morales to dismiss the indictment was highly unusual because the 52-year-old is considered a fugitive after fleeing to Spain.

Through his Miami defense attorney, the absent Perez asked a magistrate judge to throw out the case, claiming he was running a legitimate remittance company outside the United States so he couldn’t have committed a crime.

But this month, Magistrate Judge Patrick Hunt denied his motion, saying the U.S. money-laundering conspiracy charge filed five years ago extends beyond the boundaries of this country because the alleged offense happened here.

“If he wishes to contest the charges in this case, [Perez] will have to first submit to the court’s jurisdiction,” Hunt wrote in a nine-page ruling. “If he would like to go to trial, the door to the federal court, as always, remains open.”

Perez’s attorney, Stephen Golembe, has until Friday to appeal the judge’s ruling. It came in response to an unusual hearing in March, when the judge, Golembe and federal prosecutor Ron Davidson debated whether Perez is a fugitive — a thorny legal issue arising from the fact that he has yet to be arrested on the money-laundering conspiracy charge. His lawyer said he isn’t; the prosecutor said he is.

https://www.google.com/amp/amp.miamiherald.com/news/local/article157126544.html