Leaked Documents Allege Widespread Money Laundering at Major Banks

Thousands of documents obtained by journalists point to dirty money being funnelled through several world banks.

A report from BuzzFeed and other outlets on Sunday cited documents leaked from the US Financial Crimes Investigation Network (FinCEN) which indicated suspicious transactions being conducted through numerous banks, alleging that banking officials allowed criminals to shuttle money through their organisations.

Around 2,100 suspicious activity reports (SARs) were leaked, along with over 17,600 other records, which are being collectively referred to as the FinCEN files. They cover roughly $2 trillion in transactions between 1999 and 2017.

The documents were shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and have been combed for evidence of wrongdoing. Among the revelations known so far are signs that HSBC enabled fraudsters to move millions of dollars of stolen money around the globe even after learning of the scam; JP Morgan allowed a company potentially owned by an FBI-wanted mobster to transfer over $1 billion through a London account, and a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin may have been using Barclays Bank in London to dodge sanctions imposed across the West.

Documents also revealed that the UK was known to the intelligence division of FinCEN as a “higher risk jurisdiction” comparable to Cyprus, and that the husband of a major Conservative Party donor was being secretly funded by another Russian oligarch close to Putin.

Shares in HSBC dipped by 4% in Hong Kong after the leaked documents came to light, the bank’s highest stock fall to date.

Anti-corruption organisation Transparency International UK said the leaked SARs “repeatedly cite weak money laundering defences in the UK financial sector as a major problem”, with chief executive Daniel Bruce adding that the revelations “are a damning indictment of the system that is supposed to prevent the UK and other financial centres becoming havens for dirty money.”

John Dobson, CEO at anti-money laundering specialists SmartSearch, also commented on the content of the FinCEN files. “This is nothing short of a betrayal for all those thousands of businesses doing their bit in the global fight against money laundering and financial fraud,” he said.

“We speak to customers in the UK and the US day-in, day-out, who are all working hard to make sure they have the best tools and technology available to prevent money laundering, and to be compliant with the law. While at the same time, if these documents can be believed, one of the world’s biggest banks has effectively turned a blind eye and enabled criminals to take full advantage.”

In a statement, HSBC said “All of the information provided by the ICIJ is historical.” As of 2012, the bank said, “HSBC embarked on a multi-year journey to overhaul its ability to combat financial crime across more than 60 jurisdictions.”

Other banks implicated in the FinCEN files have also issued statements.

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