Money laundering should be near the top of the list of any business owner’s concerns. Anti-money laundering legislation and regulations are strict and increasingly enforced, and remaining in compliance through implementing proper prevention controls is a must. Countless businesses large and small – from corporations to third-party contractors – have learned this lesson the hard way.
Take Citibank, for example. The banking giant was recently fined $70 million in the U.S. “for failing to address shortcomings in its anti-money laundering policies” (Reuters, 2018). It was the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that levied the fine against the bank because it had allegedly failed to address money laundering concerns that were first flagged five years earlier.
The case is notable because it isn’t linked to a specific new allegation of money laundering per se. It is the alleged lack of compliance and efforts to enhance prevention policies that placed Citibank in hot water (Bloomberg, 2018).
Money Laundering Cases in the News
Citibank isn’t alone. Other recent high-profile cases serve as warnings to companies that aren’t taking money laundering prevention seriously:
- Pakistan’s biggest lender, Habib Bank Ltd, was fined $225 million by the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) for failures over anti-money laundering and sanctions rules at its single U.S. branch. (Reuters, 2017). According to media reports, the DFS was previously seeking to impose a fine of up to $630 million, the largest ever faced by a Pakistani financial institution, for “grave” compliance failures.
- Western Union, accused of failing to deter and report transactions related to money laundering, settled its case with the DFS for $60 million (Reuters, 2018). From 2004 to 2012, Western Union allegedly failed to implement and maintain an effective anti-money laundering program aimed to deter criminals who were using its electronic network. The company also allegedly ignored suspicious transactions to locations in China by several high-volume agents (including money transfers that were linked to human trafficking).
- French bank watchdog ACPR fined Société Générale, one of France’s largest banks, 5 million euros for a number of alleged shortcomings in its money laundering and terrorism financing prevention controls (Reuters, 2018). Also, a French investigator sent documents to Brazil prosecutors that suggest Société Générale might have breached money laundering rules in the alleged corruption surrounding the selection of Rio de Janeiro as the host for the 2016 Olympics (New York Times, 2017). The allegations involve payments from a Brazilian businessman to the son of a former Olympic Committee member – the payments were allegedly routed through Société Générale accounts.
Money Laundering’s Lasting Harm
Anti-money laundering (AML) efforts by regulatory bodies worldwide are serious business. Multinational organisations, and especially financial institutions, must employ the toughest AML compliance controls and standards to avoid the risk of even appearing to run afoul of AML laws. That’s why CRI Group advises clients to have robust AML controls in place, especially when dealing in business overseas, and entering into any new partnerships or mergers.
The impact of corruption and money laundering allegations are often severe, and can include:
- Damaged corporate reputations and brand devaluation
- Eroding employee moral
- Potential consumer boycotts
- Negative investor perceptions
- Possible legal action
- Fines and potential jail terms for directors
The best way to prevent and detect money laundering is to have a robust set of anti-money laundering (AML) processes in place. CRI Group’s Investigative Due Diligence services provide the specialised intelligence needed by global financial institutions and multinational corporations to guarantee complete compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) regulations and legislation involving trans-national implications.
Strategies to Combat Money Laundering
As part of any system of anti-money laundering controls, there are some common-sense elements that can help keep an organisation better protected. CRI Group founder and CEO Zafar Anjum said that it’s important that companies take a top-down approach to prevent money laundering because in today’s climate, they cannot afford to take a blind eye.
“The days when companies could plead ignorance to money laundering activities taking place among their business transactions are over,” Anjum said. “Governments have been clear with new laws and regulations that they expect a proactive effort to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing, and they will prosecute organisations and their personnel who don’t meet this expectation.
“To take things a step further, most international companies are performing due diligence and taking careful measures not to partner with organisations that are high on the money laundering risk scale, because that would increase their exposure,” Anjum said. “Being in compliance isn’t just a sound legal strategy – it’s also good business.”
By adopting policies and procedures aimed to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing, companies will enhance their efforts to be on the right side of compliance. A few of these policies include:
- Scrutinising unusually large and/or complex transactions. Systems should be automated to flag these types of transactions for review to determine their purpose and legitimacy.
- Reviewing odd patterns of transactions. Sometimes smaller transactions can reveal a pattern of illegal activity related to money laundering or terrorist financing; AML software will flag such patterns of possible abuse for review.
- Disallowing anonymity among financial transactions. This common-sense protocol can help discourage and prevent money laundering activities, as anonymity is the shield through which most suspicious actors hide their financial activities.
- Identifying clients who might be politically exposed persons (PEP). PEPs are recognised as such by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an independent inter-governmental body that develops and promotes policies to protect the global financial system against money laundering, terrorist financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
- Conducting client due diligence. Within the boundaries of a jurisdiction’s privacy laws, the organisation should perform due diligence on high volume clients to verify their identities, business purposes and business relationships.
- Maintaining complete and thorough records. This includes clients, transactions, and due diligence findings that should be kept on file for at least five years.
- Training employees. As with all areas of fraud prevention, the front line against money laundering is the organisation’s staff. Employees should be aware of anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing laws and regulations, and their personal responsibility in helping the organisation remain in compliance. Expert training and certification should be provided on a scheduled basis to keep employees knowledgeable about changes in the law, new threats and updates to control procedures.
Ensuring compliance is a responsibility that must be embraced and managed at the senior level of the company. Anjum, a 27-years veteran in fraud prevention, protective integrity, security and compliance, said this includes communicating the policies and procedures – as well as the results: “If there are areas to improve, management must take the lead in recognising those weaknesses and developing strategies to address them,” Anjum said.
CRI Group has a vast offering of services to help organisations stay ahead of the curve with anti-money laundering measures and the processes required to remain fully in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, giving companies, their business partners and their clients the confidence of knowing that the organisation, and its reputation, is protected from the negative consequences of money laundering.
Anti-money laundering laws and regulations are constantly being strengthened as governments come under pressure to protect their economy and taxpayers from the damage caused by this widespread crime. Today, organisations must be diligent in protecting themselves, their investments, their reputations – and they must be fully compliant within the law. Contact CRI Group and be better protected against the risks of money laundering today.