FINRA Fines Brokerage Firm $5.75M for Lax Anti-Money Laundering Program

On December 28, FINRA entered into an acceptance, waiver, and consent (AWC) agreement with a Puerto-Rican-based brokerage firm based upon allegations that the firm’s anti-money laundering (AML) program “was not reasonably designed to achieve and monitor compliance with the requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act.” In deciding to levy a $5.75 million fine, FINRA noted, among other things, that the firm improperly “relied on manual supervisory review of securities transactions” that was “not sufficiently focused on AML risks.” The firm neither admitted nor denied the findings set forth in the AWC agreement, but agreed to address deficiencies in their AML program within 180 days. According to a firm spokeswoman, the firm is “pleased to have this matter from 2013 resolved and we continue to improve, manage and monitor our AML efforts.”

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FinCEN Issues Guidance on Sharing Suspicious Activity Reports with U.S. Parents and Affiliates of Casinos

On January 4, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued guidance to “confirm that, under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and its implementing regulations, a casino that has filed a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) may share the SAR, or any information that would reveal the existence of the SAR, with each office or other place of business located within the United States of either the casino itself or a parent or affiliate of the casino.” As explained in the guidance, FinCEN expects that the anti-money laundering efforts of the casino’s affiliates could be enhanced by virtue of their access to a clearer and more comprehensive picture of the activities the casino has identified as suspicious. The guidance also specified that casinos may not share SARs or information that would reveal the existence of a SAR with non-U.S. offices or affiliates, individuals or entities within the casino’s corporate famile that perform functions unrelated to gaming, a financial institution without an independent SAR obligation, or unaffialited money services businesses located within the casino. Finally, the guidance specified that a domestic affiliate that receives a SAR or revealing information from a casino may not further share that SAR with an affiliate of its own.

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Four Businessmen and Two Mexican Government Officials Plead Guilty in Aircraft Maintenance Bribery Scheme

On December 27, the DOJ announced the unsealing of charges against four businessmen and two Mexican officials involved in a scheme to secure aircraft maintenance and repair contracts with Mexican government-owned companies. The four businessmen all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA, with two of the businessmen separately pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Additionally, both former officials with Mexican state-owned companies each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to the DOJ, the defendants admitted that between 2006 and 2016, millions of dollars were paid to numerous Mexican government officials to secure aircraft parts and servicing contracts with Mexican government-owned companies. The defendants also admitted to laundering the proceeds of the bribery scheme. In total, the four businessmen paid more than $2 million in bribes to Mexican officials, including the two former officials.

One of the former officials was sentenced in May to 15 months in prison; the remaining defendants have yet to be sentenced.

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FinCEN Penalizes New York Credit Union for Failure to Manage High-Risk International Financial Activity

On December 14, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced that it had assessed a $500,000 civil money penalty against a federally-chartered, low-income designated, community development credit union, for “significant violations” of anti-money laundering regulations. According to FinCEN, the credit union had historically maintained an AML program designed to address risks stemming from its designated field of membership in New York, NY. However, in 2011, the credit union began providing banking services to many wholesale, commercial money services business, some of which were located in high risk jurisdictions or engaged in high risk activities, without taking steps to update its AML program. As a result, the credit union was unable to detect and report suspicious activity and was left particularly vulnerable to money laundering.

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NYDFS Fines Italian Bank $235 Million for Repeated Violations of AML/BSA Laws

On December 14 the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) announced the imposition of a $235 million fine against an Italian bank and its New York branch as part of a consent order addressing “significant violations of New York anti-money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act (AML/BSA) laws.” According to the consent order, a NYDFS investigation identified “compliance failures . . . arising from deficiencies in the implementation and oversight of the transaction monitoring system located at the New York Branch,” as well as “non-transparent practices to process payments on behalf of Iranian clients” and “shell company activity indicative of potentially suspicious transactions” and a general “breakdown in audit and management oversight.” The consent order findings stipulate that the wrongdoing dated back to 2002, but also acknowledge that the Bank made the decision to discontinue certain of its non-transparent practices in 2006. In addition to a civil monetary penalty, the consent order also requires that the bank continue to engage an independent consultant to help “remediate the identified shortcomings,” “audit the Bank’s transaction review efforts”, and submit a report of its findings, conclusions and recommendations within 60 days. Thereafter, the Bank must submit, in writing for NYDFS review, across-the-board enhancements to its internal control policies and procedures.

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