In Laundering Case, a Lax Banking Law Obscured Money Flow

August 9, 2012

The New York Times on August 8, 2012 released the following:

“By JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG and EDWARD WYATT

The list of global banks that have been accused in recent years of laundering foreign transactions totaling billions of dollars has been growing — Credit Suisse, Lloyds, Barclays, ING, HSBC — and now Standard Chartered.

The details in each case are different, with the international banks suspected of using their American subsidiaries to process tainted money for clients that included Iran, Cuba, North Korea, sponsors of terrorist groups and drug cartels.

What the cases have in common is that the accused banks took advantage of a law that was not changed until 2008 and that allowed banks to disguise client identities and move their money offshore. The cases, including one filed this week by New York’s banking regulator against Standard Chartered, also cast a harsh light on just how much activity with Iran was permitted in the years leading up to 2008 and whether the practices had violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

Foreign banks until 2008 were allowed to transfer money for Iranian clients through their American subsidiaries to a separate offshore institution. In the so-called U-turn transactions, the banks had to provide scant information about the client to their American units as long as they had thoroughly vetted the transactions for suspicious activity. Suspecting that Iranian banks were financing nuclear weapons and missile programs, the loophole was finally closed in 2008.

The new money-laundering claims made by the New York Department of Financial Services against Standard Chartered are particularly embarrassing for the Treasury Department, because they show how, until 2008, foreign banks could collaborate with their Iranian clients to circumvent United States sanctions, said Jimmy Gurulé, a former Treasury Department official who is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Standard Chartered, as part of a strategy to ignore regulations imposed by a division of the Treasury Department, schemed with its Iranian clients to omit crucial details from money-transfer paperwork, according to a regulatory order filed Monday. An e-mail from a lawyer to bank executives in 2001 said that payment instructions for Iranian clients “should not identify the client or the purpose of the payment,” according to the order.

The strategy of masking client details was driven, in part, by a desire for speed, according to law enforcement officials involved in the money-laundering cases. Transactions with certain risky clients, like the Iranians, were subject to much more rigorous vetting. To avoid the holdup, the officials said, some foreign banks willfully removed the names.

Since January 2009, the Justice Department, Treasury and other government entities have brought charges against five foreign banks — the British banks Lloyds and Barclays; the Dutch banks Credit Suisse and ABN Amro, now the Royal Bank of Scotland; and ING Bank of Amsterdam. The British bank HSBC is also under investigation by United States authorities for suspected money-laundering violations connected to Iran, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and North Korea, and the bank has set aside $700 million to cover potential fines.

The settlements with the five banks generally included deferred prosecution agreements along with a substantial forfeiture of assets comparable in size to the basket of illegal transactions the banks engaged in. The five cases, which resulted from bank actions from 1995 through 2007, produced forfeitures of $2.3 billion over the last three and a half years. About half of that money went to Treasury and half to other entities, including the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which joined the Justice Department in most of the settlements.

So far, the Standard Chartered case is playing out entirely differently. To start with, action against the bank on Monday was brought by a single regulator, Benjamin M. Lawsky, a former prosecutor who now leads the New York Department of Financial Services. That is virtually unprecedented, since the vast majority of money-laundering charges come from regulators acting in concert.

The federal agencies are still investigating Standard Chartered and are debating just how expansive the suspected wrongdoing was. Mr. Lawsky claims the bank processed $250 billion in tainted money while cloaking the identities of its Iranian clients by stripping their names from paperwork. Some federal authorities, though, believe that the amount is closer to the $14 million that Standard Chartered acknowledges did not comply with regulations.

It is unclear whether the bank will settle with regulators or continue to fight. Standard Chartered must appear next week before Mr. Lawsky to explain the apparent violations and why it should not have its New York license revoked.

The divergent views on the bank’s culpability stem, in part, from the murkiness of the law governing how foreign institutions processed transactions with Iran.

Until 2008, American economic sanctions had a large exception for Iran because the Middle Eastern nation had such a vast oil business with the United States. The loophole permitted the U-turn transactions, allowing foreign institutions to route money to a bank in the United States, which would then transfer the money immediately to a different foreign institution.

Since Monday, Standard Chartered has fiercely argued that its transactions on behalf of Iranian banks and corporations fell squarely within that loophole. But Mr. Lawsky is largely basing his case on claims that the bank violated the law by covering up the identity of its Iranian clients and thwarting American efforts to detect money laundering.

In the settlements with the five banks since 2009, federal authorities and the Manhattan prosecutor accused the banks of “stripping” identifying information from some of the transactions that would have shown they were subject to sanctions and should not be allowed.

For example, in Lloyds’s $217 million settlement in 2009, senior bank managers warned colleagues in 2002 against “stripping” information from transactions referencing Iran, according to court records. In response, the records say, Lloyds simply began to “instruct Iranian banks on how to ‘clean’ payment instructions in which they were the originating bank to avoid detection” by Treasury Department filters.

The stripping constituted criminal conduct, the Justice Department said, when the transfers from sanctioned countries terminated in the United States — rather than taking a U-turn and heading back offshore. By ending in America, the transactions were subjected to stricter security standards, law enforcement officials said. In a letter sent Wednesday from Adam J. Szubin, director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, to Britain’s Treasury office, the department explained its enforcement efforts both before and after the 2008 changes. Now, all cross-border transfers require “the inclusion of complete originator and beneficiary information,” according to the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times.

United States banks were involved in the pre-2008 transactions only as an intermediary, and American banks have generally not been charged with violations similar to those brought against the five foreign banks. Because American banks were prohibited from being the beginning or ending party in transactions involving Iran and other sanctioned countries, they would not have been involved in the conduct that got the foreign banks into trouble.

Since the tighter sanctions went into effect, there have been no charges brought on post-2008 conduct, although Treasury’s letter says that investigations are ongoing.

Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said that the lack of recent illegal conduct is because the settlements with foreign banks “required the banks to implement rigorous compliance programs and other safeguards” against further violations of sanctions. She said that the department’s enforcement program “has had a significant impact on banking industry practices involving sanctions.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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U.S. tags Guatemalan as a drug trafficker

April 13, 2012

The Washington Times on April 12, 2012 released the following:

“By Jerry Seper

Guatemalan national Horst Walter Overdick Mejia, described by U.S. law enforcement authorities as a “critical link” in the drug trade between Colombian producers and the violent Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas, has been named by the State Department as a “specially designated narcotics trafficker.”

The designation, under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, prohibits U.S. persons and corporations from conducting financial or commercial transactions with this person and freezes any assets he may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York unsealed an indictment naming Overdick Mejia on charges of narcotics trafficking and firearms violations. He was arrested April 3 in Guatemala and accused of being the head of a major drug trafficking and money laundering organization based in Guatemala.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials described Overdick Mejia as a veteran spice buyer who used his local contacts and his legitimate business acumen to smuggle thousands of kilograms of cocaine to Mexico and on into the United States.

Many authorities blame Overdick Mejia for bringing Los Zetas into Guatemala in 2008 to eliminate a competing trafficker and later becoming their most important ally in Guatemala. He also laundered millions of U.S. dollars in narcotics proceeds generated by both his own organization as well as Los Zetas, the authorities said.

“These are necessary tools we use to ensure that we put dangerous drug trafficking organizations out of business and ensure they cannot exploit the U.S. financial system,” said John Arvanitis, DEA chief of financial operations. “Overdick Mejia was a vital link between Colombian drug producers and Mexican cartels such as Los Zetas.

“This case is yet another example of the united front that law enforcement and regulators must utilize to ensure that organizations such as this one are put out of business forever,” he said.

Adam J. Szubin, Treasury’s director of the office of foreign assets control (OFAC), said Overdick Mejia’s drug trafficking activities and close ties to the Los Zetas “makes him a dangerous and critical figure in the Central American narcotics trade.

“By designating Overdick Mejia, OFAC is demonstrating its support for the Guatemalan government in its struggle against the threats and violence posed by these international drug gangs,” he said.

DEA and OFAC coordinated the Overdick Mejia designation action with federal prosecutors in New York. The action was part of ongoing efforts involving the Kingpin Act to apply financial measures against significant foreign narcotics traffickers and their organizations worldwide. The Treasury Department has designated more than 1,000 persons and entities under the Kingpin Act since June 2000.

Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from fines of up to $1.075 million per violation to more severe criminal penalties. Criminal penalties for corporate officers may include up to 30 years in prison and fines up to $5 million. Criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million. Others face up to 10 years in prison and fines.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
OFAC SDN Removal Videos:

OFAC Litigation – SDN List Removal

OFAC SDN List Removal

OFAC SDN Removal Attorneys

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To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Treasury Targets Alleged Key Panama-based Money Laundering Operation Linked to Mexican and Colombian Drug Cartels

January 3, 2012

VAdvert.co.uk on December 31, 2011 released the following:

“Sophia Jenson

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated Lebanese-Colombian nationals Jorge Fadlallah Cheaitelly (“Cheaitelly”) and Mohamad Zouheir El Khansa (“El Khansa”) as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers (SDNTs) due to their significant role in international money laundering activities involving drug trafficking proceeds. OFAC also designated nine other individuals and 28 entities in Colombia, Panama, Lebanon, and Hong Kong with ties to Cheaitelly and El Khansa. Today’s action, taken pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act), prohibits U.S. persons from conducting financial or commercial transactions with these entities and individuals and freezes any assets the designees may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

“Jorge Fadlallah Cheaitelly runs an extensive money laundering network based in Panama and Colombia with ties to Mexico, Lebanon, and Hong Kong,” said OFAC Director Adam J. Szubin. “By designating these individuals and companies we are exposing a significant international money laundering network, forcing them out of the international financial system, and undermining their ability to launder drug money through a global support network for the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.”

Treasury took today’s actions in close coordination with investigations by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the New York City Police Department.

“These criminals and their entities operate in the shadows, using sophisticated means and various business fronts to launder drug trafficking proceeds worldwide,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “These traffickers and businesses fuel drug trafficking, violence, and corruption. The United States Government will use all available law enforcement tools to attack and defeat these global criminal networks and their facilitators.”

Jorge Fadlallah Cheaitelly leads a Panama-based drug trafficking and money laundering organization that stretches across the globe, spanning the Americas, the Middle East, and Hong Kong. Today’s action targets key Colombian members of the Cheaitelly/El Khansa criminal organization, including Cali-based money launderer Jaime Edery Crivosei, Barranquilla-based drug trafficker Benny Issa Fawaz and Maicao-based money launderer Ali Mohamad Saleh. Cheaitelly’s key financial associates are also targeted, including his siblings, Jaime Fadlallah Cheaytelli, Guiseppe Ali Cheaitelli Saheli, and Fatima Fadlallath Cheaitilly, and two Lebanon-based associates, Fawaz Mohamad Rahall and Ahmed El Khansa.

Today’s action also targets 28 companies controlled by Jorge Cheaitelly and Mohamad El Khansa and their associates in Panama, Colombia and Hong Kong. Among today’s designations are several money exchange businesses in Panama — Eurocambio, S.A., Euro Exchange Y Financial Commerce, Inc. (a.k.a. Eurex) and General Commerce Overseas, Inc. ­– as well as Junior International S.A., Global Technology Import & Export, S.A. (GTI), and Fedco Import & Export, S.A., import/export businesses located in Panama’s Colon Free Zone that are part of the Cheaitelly/El Khansa financial network. Junior International S.A. is affiliated with the significant Lebanese drug trafficker and money launderer, Ayman Joumaa, who was designated under the Kingpin Act in January 2011. Cheaitelly replaced Ayman Joumaa as director of Junior International S.A. and continues to operate the company with Joumaa’s brothers who are also designated as narcotics traffickers.

Several front companies located in Maicao, Colombia were also designated, including electronics stores Bodega Electro Giorgio and Almacen Electro Sony Star, general merchandise businesses Family Fedco and Comercial Globanty, and luggage stores Almacen Batul and Comercial Estilo y Moda. Two businesses controlled by Cali-based money launderer Jaime Edery Crivosei, Agropecuaria La Perla Ltda and KPD S.A., were also designated. OFAC also designated Polyton (Asia) Limited, a company located in Hong Kong, for acting for or on behalf of Guiseppe Ali Cheaitelly Saheli.

Today’s action is part of the Treasury Department’s ongoing efforts pursuant to the Kingpin Act to target the financial networks of significant foreign narcotics traffickers and their organizations worldwide. The Treasury Department has designated more than 1,000 individuals and entities linked to drug kingpins since June 2000. Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from civil penalties of up to $1.075 million per violation to more severe criminal penalties. Criminal penalties for corporate officers may include up to 30 years in prison and fines up to $5 million. Criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million. Other individuals face up to 10 years in prison and fines pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code for criminal violations of the Kingpin Act.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
OFAC SDN Removal Videos:

OFAC Litigation – SDN List Removal

OFAC SDN List Removal

OFAC SDN Removal Attorneys

————————————————————–

To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.