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FinCEN Files: How did the leak of secret documents that puts the world’s leading banks in check?

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The largest entities on the planet allowed to launder more than two trillion dollars of black money. A data leak to a consortium of journalists reveals a widespread corrupt system.

A leak to an online medium unleashed a filthy scandal to the largest banks on the planet. An anonymous source leaked a large amount of confidential information to the Anglo-Saxon online site ‘BuzzFeed News’. Those responsible for this medium, given the magnitude of what was received, decided to share it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an organization that was already behind the study and publication of other scandals related to tax havens.

This entity, which is dedicated to bringing dozens of media outlets to work together on a specific issue, got more than 400 journalists from 108 media outlets in 88 countries to jointly investigate the documents that had reached ‘BuzzFeed News’ and which are known as ‘FinCEN Files’.

The documents that came to BuzzFeed News They did so mainly after entire folders of papers that had been used by a US congressional commission of inquiry investigating interference by Russian secret services in the 2016 US presidential campaign were leaked. But in the information They appear from Ukrainian tycoons to the front man of Nicolás Maduro passing through a bank in Jordan suspected of allowing money to circulate that finances terrorist activities.

Their discoveries revealed how dozens of the largest banks on the planet allow their structures to be used to launder black money despite the fact that banking, especially after the 2008 crisis and due to its vital importance for the countries’ economies, is one of the most regulated sectors in the world. Neither regulated nor aware of its key role in the world economy. The great banks of the planet continue to be essential for the circulation of money related to crime.

The research is based on the examination of more than 2,000 “suspicious activity reports”(SAR, in its acronym in English), transmitted by banks around the world to the US anti-money laundering authority, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network or FinCEN in the language used in the financial world. These reports are made especially when banks suspect that a transaction may be related to activities such as money laundering, terrorist financing or attempts to avoid sanctions or embargoes.

Those SARs, according to the media that participated in the investigation, add up to nearly $ 2.1 trillion in suspicious transactions between 1999 and 2017, a sign that banks allow suspicious money to flow through their pipes from or to bank accounts of people or companies whose identity they could not or did not bother to find out. That money could be part of a money laundering scheme or, perhaps worse, the financing of crimes such as terrorism or illegal trafficking in arms, people, drugs or works of art.

In the report appear large banks, among the largest in the world: the Americans JP Morgan, Citibank and Bank of New York Mellon, the British HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank, the French Société Générale and the German Deutsche Bank. Some have been fined millions in recent years for activities such as helping avoid penalties or manipulating key financial indices – which are used to set loan rates – such as Euribor or Libor.

HSBC, for example, recognized in 2012 that it had served to launder almost 900 million dollars from drug cartels in Latin America. The managers and the bank itself escaped criminal prosecution in exchange for paying a fine of 1.9 billion dollars and to promise that from then on they would fight relentlessly against money laundering, a promise that this new scandal shows that they have forgotten.

What is known now is the very small tip of a gigantic iceberg because the SAR revealed represent only 0.02% of all those received by the US anti-money laundering cell between 2011 and 2017. They focus on certain Russian personalities and banks that somehow participated in the scandal of Russian interference in the presidential elections that gave Donald Trump the victory.

United Nations calculates that only 1% of the $ 2.4 trillion is detected that are bleached every year. And they do not comply with the legislation. This requires them to know the physical identity of the beneficiary of all accounts in the name of a company. In the nearly 2,100 SARs examined in this investigation, banks were unaware of the identity of beneficial owners in about half of the cases. The investigation ensures that banks only react when the scandal is made public by journalistic information or judicial investigations. A posteriori, when black money already looks white in the other corner of the world.

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