Government Documents Reportedly Show Some of the World’s Biggest Banks Moving Illicit Funds
- Reports from BuzzFeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detailed findings from leaked government documents which found that some of the biggest global banks moved money for criminal networks and profited from doing so.
- The documents they drew from are known as suspicious activity reports. Very few of those reports have ever been publicized, but this leak contained 2,100 of them.
- According to BuzzFeed, the reports revealed that major lenders like JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank moved than $2 trillion in suspicious transactions between 1999 and 2017.
- BuzzFeed alleged that most banks could have stopped the transactions, but they often kept the money moving to collect fees and profit off the illicit funds “while facilitating the work of terrorists, kleptocrats, and drug kingpins.”
- For the most part, banks cannot legally comment on these reports, but in statements responding to the story, many claimed to have made significant improvements to their abilities to fight financial crimes.
BuzzFeed News’ SAR Bombshell
Some of the biggest banks in the world have helped suspected terrorists, drug cartels, rogue states, and other criminal networks move trillions of dollars, according to new reports published Sunday by BuzzFeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The reports detail findings from thousands of leaked government documents called suspicious activity reports (SARs). Those reports, which banks are required to file if they suspect their clients of engaging in money laundering, fraud, or other illegal activity, are sent to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an agency housed in the Treasury Department that is tasked with combating financial crimes.
FinCEN collects millions of SARs each year and sends them to law enforcement agencies all over the world. Notably, the SARs themselves do not provide evidence of wrongdoing, and the agency does not require banks to stop doing business with clients it flagged in SARs.
The investigative pieces by BuzzFeed and the ICIJ, which have been dubbed the FinCEN Files, provide an incredibly significant look into the secretive banking reports. As BuzzFeed notes, very few SARs had ever been revealed to the public prior to their reporting.
“The FinCEN Files encompass more than 2,100,” the outlet wrote, adding that the FinCEN Files “offer an unprecedented view of global financial corruption, the banks enabling it, and the government agencies that watch as it flourishes.”
According to BuzzFeed, in all, the SARs they reviewed “flagged more than $2 trillion in transactions between 1999 and 2017. Western banks could have blocked almost any of them, but in most cases they kept the money moving and kept collecting their fees.”
“[The] huge trove of secretive government documents eveals for the first time how the giants of Western banking move trillions of dollars in suspicious transactions, enriching themselves and their shareholders while facilitating the work of terrorists, kleptocrats, and drug kingpins,” the article said. “And the US government, despite its vast powers, fails to stop it.”
Regarding the government response, BuzzFeed writes: “In the rare instances when the US government does crack down on banks, it often relies on sweetheart deals called deferred prosecution agreements, which include fines but no high-level arrests.”
“Laws that were meant to stop financial crime have instead allowed it to flourish,” the report continued. “So long as a bank files a notice that it may be facilitating criminal activity, it all but immunizes itself and its executives from criminal prosecution. The suspicious activity alert effectively gives them a free pass to keep moving the money and collecting the fees.”
“Banks often get to the end of their agreement without actually fixing the problems. Then, instead of getting the prosecution that they had been threatened with, they just get another chance. And sometimes another.”
BuzzFeed then goes on to explicitly flag five banks, writing that its investigation “shows that even after they were prosecuted or fined for financial misconduct, banks such as JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, and Bank of New York Mellon continued to move money for suspected criminals.”
BuzzFeed mentions a number of examples regarding those banks. One of the most outstanding instances concerned Standard Chartered, which BuzzFeed said moved money for a Dubai-based business called Al Zarooni “that was later accused of laundering cash on behalf of the Taliban.”
During the years that Al Zarooni was a Standard Chartered customer, “Taliban militants staged violent attacks that killed civilians and soldiers.”
The report also says the SARs BuzzFeed accessed showed that HSBC’s Hong Kong branch, “allowed WCM777, a Ponzi scheme, to move more than $15 million even as the business was being barred from operating in three states.”
That scam stole at least $80 million from investors, most of whom were Latino and Asian immigrants. According to authorities, the company’s owner “used the looted funds to buy two golf courses, a 7,000-square-foot mansion, a 39.8-carat diamond, and mining rights in Sierra Leone.”
In addition to those two banks, the outlet also reported that “Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, American Express, and others collectively processed millions of dollars in transactions” for the family of the former mayor of Kazakhstan’s most populous city, who was later convicted of “bribe-taking and defrauding the city through the sale of public property.”
BuzzFeed claimed that those banks continued to process those transactions “even after Interpol issued a Red Notice for his arrest.”
Separately on Sunday, NBC News, which also viewed the same SARs, published an article claiming the documents showed that “North Korea carried out an elaborate money laundering scheme for years using a string of shell companies and help from Chinese companies, moving money through prominent banks in New York.”
“The suspected laundering by North Korea-linked organizations amounted to more than $174.8 million over several years, with transactions cleared through U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase and the Bank of New York Mellon,” NBC added, noting that this occurred at the same time the U.S. had put strict economic sanctions against the country in place.
Response From Banks & FinCEN
FinCEN has not released any statements since the reports came out, but it does appear they knew the exposé was coming.
In a statement published Sept. 1, the agency said it was “aware that various media outlets intend to publish a series of articles based on unlawfully disclosed (SARs).”
“The unauthorized disclosure of SARs is a crime that can impact the national security of the United States, compromise law enforcement investigations, and threaten the safety and security of the institutions and individuals who file such reports,” it added.
FinCEN also seemed to respond to reports that the SARs would be leaked by doing early damage control. On Sept. 17, just days before media outlets prepared to publish the documents, the agency published another statement announcing plans for a huge overhaul of national anti-money laundering rules.
Many of the banks mentioned by BuzzFeed have also responded to the article in a series of lengthy statements where each lender reiterated the fact that they cannot legally comment on SARs. They also noted that they have made improvements over the years when it comes to fighting financial crimes and money laundering.
Regarding the release of the SARs themselves, BuzzFeed says it would not publish them because “they contain information about people or companies that are not under suspicion,” and added that some of the documents will be published later with redactions “to support reporting in specific stories.”
Currently, it is unclear if these bombshell reports will move the needle when it comes to reforms and overhauls.
“If the government wanted to, experts in financial crime say, it could stop the dirty money coursing through the big banks, as well as the vast array of criminal activity it funds,” BuzzFeed wrote.
Reforms that could be made, according to the outlet, include greater public accountability, arresting and prosecuting executives whose banks break the law, and requiring companies “to disclose their owners to the Treasury Department, rather than allowing people to hide behind a shell company.”
Additionally, while these reports are likely some of the biggest insights into SARs ever made public, they are just the tip of the iceberg.
“The FinCEN Files represent less than 0.02% of the more than 12 million suspicious activity reports that financial institutions filed with FinCEN between 2011 and 2017,” ICIJ noted in their version of the publication.
What’s more, in the last two years alone, FinCEN received “more than 2 million SARs” according to BuzzFeed.
“That number has nearly doubled over the past decade, as financial institutions have faced mounting pressure to file and the volume of international transactions has grown,” the outlet added. “Over the same period, FinCEN’s staff has shrunk by more than 10%. Sources there say most SARs are never even read, let alone acted upon.”
With that information in mind, the big question then becomes: will there be pressure from the public?
Even if it does, as The New York Times points out, it is unclear if that pressure would outweigh the sway big banks have on the government.
“Recently, banks have pushed Congress to relieve them of some of their anti-money-laundering responsibilities,” The Times reported. “They say they are so worried about the legal consequences of failing to report suspicious activities that they err on the side of over-reporting transactions.”
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The New York Times) (Business Insider)
White Supremacist Propaganda Reached Record High in 2022, ADL Finds
“We cannot sit idly by as these extremists pollute our communities with their hateful trash,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said.
White supremacist propaganda in the U.S. reached record levels in 2022, according to a report published Wednesday by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center of Extremism.
The ADL found over 6,700 cases of white supremacist propaganda in 2022, which marks a 38% jump from the nearly 4,900 cases the group found in 2021. It also represents the highest number of incidents ever recorded by the ADL.
The propaganda tallied by the anti-hate organization includes the distribution of racist, antisemitic, and homophobic flyers, banners, graffiti, and more. This propaganda has spread substantially since 2018, when the ADL found just over 1,200 incidents.
“There’s no question that white supremacists and antisemites are trying to terrorize and harass Americans with their propaganda,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “We cannot sit idly by as these extremists pollute our communities with their hateful trash.”
The report found that there were at least 50 white supremacist groups behind the spread of propaganda in 2022, but 93% of it came from just three groups. One of those groups was also responsible for 43% of the white supremacist events that took place last year.
White supremacist events saw a startling uptick of their own, with the ADL documenting at least 167, a 55% jump from 2021.
Propaganda was found in every U.S. state except for Hawaii, and events were documented in 33 states, most heavily in Massachusetts, California, Ohio, and Florida.
“The sheer volume of white supremacist propaganda distributions we are documenting around the country is alarming and dangerous,” Oren Segal, Vice President of the ADL’s Center on Extremism said in a statement. “Hardly a day goes by without communities being targeted by these coordinated, hateful actions, which are designed to sow anxiety and create fear.”
“We need a whole-of-society approach to combat this activity, including elected officials, community leaders, and people of good faith coming together and condemning this activity forcefully,” Segal continued.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (The New York Times)
Adidas Financial Woes Continue, Company on Track for First Annual Loss in Decades
Adidas has labeled 2023 a “transition year” for the company.
Adidas’ split with musician Kanye West has left the company with financial problems due to surplus Yeezy products, putting the sportswear giant in the position to potentially suffer its first annual loss in over 30 years.
Adidas dropped West last year after he made a series of antisemitic remarks on social media and other broadcasts. His Yeezy line was a staple for Adidas, and the surplus product is due, in part, to the brand’s own decision to continue production during the split.
According to CEO Bjorn Gulden, Adidas continued production of only the items already in the pipeline to prevent thousands of people from losing their jobs. However, that has led to the unfortunate overabundance of Yeezy sneakers and clothes.
On Wednesday, Gulden said that selling the shoes and donating the proceeds makes more sense than giving them away due to the Yeezy resale market — which has reportedly shot up 30% since October.
“If we sell it, I promise that the people who have been hurt by this will also get something good out of this,” Gulden said in a statement to the press.
However, Gulden also said that West is entitled to a portion of the proceeds of the sale of Yeezys per his royalty agreement.
Adidas announced in February that, following its divergence from West, it is facing potential sales losses totaling around $1.2 billion and profit losses of around $500 million.
If it decides to not sell any more Yeezy products, Adidas is facing a projected annual loss of over $700 million.
Outside of West, Adidas has taken several heavy profit blows recently. Its operating profit reportedly fell by 66% last year, a total of more than $700 million. It also pulled out of Russia after the country’s invasion of Ukraine last year, which cost Adidas nearly $60 million dollars. Additionally, China’s “Zero Covid” lockdowns last year caused in part a 36% drop in revenue for Adidas compared to years prior.
As a step towards a solution, Gulden announced that the company is slashing its dividends from 3.30 euros to 0.70 euro cents per share pending shareholder approval.
Adidas has labeled 2023 a “transition year” for the company.
“Adidas has all the ingredients to be successful. But we need to put our focus back on our core: product, consumers, retail partners, and athletes,” Gulden said. “I am convinced that over time we will make Adidas shine again. But we need some time.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Immigration Could Be A Solution to Nursing Home Labor Shortages
98% of nursing homes in the United States are experiencing difficulty hiring staff.
The Labor Crisis
A recent National Bureau of Economic Research paper has offered up a solution to the nursing home labor shortage: immigration.
According to a 2022 American Health Care Association survey, six in ten nursing homes are limiting new patients due to staffing issues. The survey also says that 87% of nursing homes have staffing shortages and 98% are experiencing difficulty hiring.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) outlined in their paper that increased immigration could help solve the labor shortage in nursing homes. Immigrants make up 19% of nursing home workers.
With every 10% increase in female immigration, nursing assistant hours go up by 0.7% and registered nursing hours go up by 1.1% And with that same immigration increase, short-term hospitalizations of nursing home residents go down by 0.6%.
Additionally, the State Department issued 145% more EB-3 documents, which are employment-based visas, for healthcare workers in the 2022 fiscal year than in 2019, suggesting that more people are coming to the U.S. to work in health care.
However, according to Skilled Nursing News, in August of 2022, the approval process from beginning to end for an RN can take between seven to nine months.
Displeasure about immigration has exploded since Pres. Joe Biden took office in 2021. According to a Gallup study published in February, around 40% of American adults want to see immigration decrease. That is a steep jump from 19% in 2021, and it is the highest the figure has been since 2016.
However, more than half of Democrats still are satisfied with immigration and want to see it increased. But with a divided Congress, the likelihood of any substantial immigration change happening is pretty slim.