Regulator Says British Bank Helped Iran Hide Deals

August 7, 2012

The New York Times on August 6, 2012 released the following:

“By JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG

Using its New York-based operations, a major British bank schemed with the Iranian government for nearly a decade to launder $250 billion, leaving the United States financial system vulnerable to terrorists and corrupt regimes, New York’s top banking regulator charged on Monday.

The New York State Department of Financial Services accused Standard Chartered, which the agency called a “rogue institution,” of masking more than 60,000 transactions for Iranian banks and corporations, motivated by the millions of dollars it reaped in fees.

Senior management at the 150-year-old bank used the New York branch “as a front for prohibited dealings with Iran — dealings that indisputably helped sustain a global threat to peace and stability,” according to a regulatory order sent to the bank. The order requires the bank to explain the apparent violations of law in a hearing later this month and justify why its license to operate in New York shouldn’t be revoked.

The bank said Monday night that it “strongly rejects the position and portrayal of facts” by the agency.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said that it had an open investigation into money laundering at Standard Chartered. In the order, regulators paint a vivid picture of a cover-up that included the code name “Project Gazelle,” money flowing to Iran’s central bank, United States executives warning of “criminal liability,” and a manual that taught employees how to automate the masking of a rising number of illegal transactions.

The accusations against Standard Chartered come as United States officials work to crack down on the flow of money to foreign countries, companies and individuals connected to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and drug trafficking.

Beyond the dealings with Iran, the banking regulator said it had discovered evidence that Standard Chartered operated “similar schemes” to do business with other countries under United States sanctions, including Myanmar (formerly Burma), Libya and Sudan.

Earlier Monday, a spokesman for Standard Chartered said the bank was reviewing its “historical U.S. sanctions compliance and is discussing that review with U.S. enforcement agencies and regulators.”

But the order accuses senior executives at the bank of suppressing complaints. For example, in 2006, according to the order, the bank’s chief executive for the Americas wrote his bosses in London that the transactions had “the potential to cause very serious or even catastrophic reputational damage to the group.”

According to the order, the response was hostile, denigrated Americans and asked: “Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians.” The department of financial services, led by superintendent Benjamin M. Lawsky, said it was “impossible to know” how much of the money might have been used by Iran to finance its nuclear program or to support terrorist organizations.

Mr. Lawsky said that the department, which examined more than 30,000 internal memos, e-mails and other documents in its nine-month investigation, will hold hearings to determine any financial penalty.

Standard Chartered is the latest in a series of global banks to be accused of facilitating illegal flows of money from outside the United States. In July, a Senate panel issued a report that accused HSBC of being used by Mexican drug cartels to funnel cash back into the United States, by Saudi Arabian banks with terrorist ties that needed access to dollars and by Iranians who wanted to circumvent United States sanctions.

In June, the Justice Department and the New York County district attorney’s office reached a $619 million settlement with ING Bank over accusations that it had illegally moved billions of dollars into the United States for sanctioned Cuban and Iranian entities.

The “apparent fraudulent and deceptive conduct” by Standard Chartered occurred from 2001 to 2010, the order said, and was particularly “egregious,” because some of the transactions were being processed even as the bank was under formal oversight by New York banking regulators from 2004 to 2007.

Standard Chartered, which is based in London, relies for most of its profit on business in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Before 2008, the federal government permitted money to be transferred through the United States from one non-American based entity to another, but only after being thoroughly vetted to detect suspicious activity. In so-called U-turn transactions, a foreign institution routes money to a bank in the United States, which transfers the money immediately to a separate foreign institution.

Suspecting that Iran was using its banks — including the Central Bank of Iran/Markazi, Bank Saderat and Bank Melli — to finance nuclear weapons and missile programs, the policy toward Iran changed and the transactions were banned entirely in 2008.

The order on Monday cited those Iranian state-owned banks as clients of Standard Chartered.

Standard Chartered disputed the accusations and said that “well over 99.9 percent of the transactions relating to Iran complied with the U-turn regulations.” Those that did not comply amounted to less than $14 million, the bank said.

The bank said in its statement late Monday that it had kept federal and state authorities apprised of the review it initiated in 2010. It said that it “did not identify a single payment” connected to a terrorist entity or organization and that it had “ceased all new business with Iranian customers” five years ago.

The apparent illegal activity stretched back to 1995 after President Bill Clinton levied sanctions against Iran. At the time, the general counsel of Standard Chartered e-mailed the bank’s chief compliance officer a plan to ignore regulations imposed by a division of the Treasury Department, according to the order.

In the e-mails included in the order, the executives said a memo containing the plan “MUST NOT be sent to the U.S.,” to prevent prosecution.

That strategy of flouting the United States law was commonplace by 2001, Mr. Lawsky said. 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.”

One Iranian client, for example, was told to use “NO NAME GIVEN” in paperwork to transfer money, the order said. That way, the money transfer could escape scrutiny and “not appear to N.Y. to have come from an Iranian bank,” a 2003 e-mail from a Standard Chartered official said.

In a strategy called Project Gazelle, the bank devised to forge “new relationships with Iranian companies” and intermediaries “in oil- and gas- related businesses,” a memo from 2005 included in the order said.

The bank’s management created a formal operating manual called “Quality Operating Procedure Iranian Bank Processing,” that showed staff members how to strip off information that might tie them to the sanctioned Iranian institutions.

The bank came under scrutiny from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2003 after regulators discovered deficiencies in monitoring its transactions.

As a result, the bank entered a formal agreement with regulators that it strengthen its oversight and bring in an independent consultant to inspect transactions from July 2002 to October 2004.

Even the independent monitoring, by Deloitte & Touche, was perverted, according to Mr. Lawsky. In 2005, at the behest of the bank, Deloitte agreed to omit critical transactions from its report to regulators. “This is too much and too politically sensitive for both SCB and Deloitte. That is why I drafted the watered-down version,” a Deloitte executive said in a 2005 e-mail in the order.

Deloitte denies it aided the bank. The consultant “performed its role as independent consultant properly and had no knowledge of any alleged misconduct by bank employees,” Jonathan Gandal, a Deloitte spokesman said in a statement. “Allegations otherwise are unsupported by the facts.” In its last examination of the bank, in 2011, the state’s Department of Financial Services said it had found “continuing and significant” failures in complying with bank secrecy and money laundering laws.”

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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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Oral Testimony by Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen before the Senate Banking Committee

October 13, 2011

U.S. Department of the Treasury on October 13, 2011 released the following:

“As Prepared for Delivery

Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Shelby, and distinguished members of the Committee: Thank you for the opportunity to appear here today to discuss the Treasury Department’s contribution to the Obama Administration’s integrated strategy to address the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program and its support for terrorism.

The focus of my testimony today will be the progress we are making in our financial strategy to pressure Iran, and, in particular, the steps we are taking to implement the financial provisions of CISADA.

But first, I would like to say a few words about this week’s revelation that we disrupted an Iran Qods Force plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador here in Washington.

This is a dramatic reminder that the urgent and serious threat we face from Iran is not limited to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We have been working for several years to address the full spectrum of Iranian illicit conduct, including nuclear and missile proliferation, human rights abuses, misuse of the international financial system and support for terrorist groups worldwide.

This week is no different. On Tuesday, Treasury imposed financial sanctions against five individuals, including the Commander of the Qods Force and three other senior Qods Force officers connected to the assassination plot. In taking this action, Treasury exposed the Iranian government’s involvement in the plot through the Qods Force, Iran’s primary arm for exporting terror.

And just yesterday, we took another action targeting Qods Force involvement in terrorist activities, this time by imposing sanctions on Mahan Air – Iran’s second largest airline – which was secretly ferrying operatives, weapons and funds on its flights for the Qods Force.

This week’s actions follow on a series of recent steps taken by the Treasury Department to expose Iranian illicit behavior and ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. In the last few months, we have imposed sanctions on –

  • Tidewater, a major Iranian port operator owned by the IRGC;
  • Iran Air, Iran’s national airline, for supporting the IRGC;
  • an al Qa’ida network operating in Iran under an agreement with the Iranian government;
  • and individuals and entities involved in human rights abuses, both within Iran and supporting the Syrian government’s repression of the Syrian people.

Actions like these – along with international sanctions — have put increasing financial pressure on Iran, and CISADA has markedly amplified this effect. CISADA has helped us deepen and broaden Iran’s isolation from the international financial system. Since the President signed CISADA into law last July, my colleagues in the Treasury Department and I have worked aggressively to implement it. We have met with foreign banks, regulators and government officials in nearly 50 countries. We explain to banks and governments worldwide that CISADA offers a clear choice: a foreign bank can have access to the largest and most important financial sector in the world – the United States – or it can do business with sanctioned Iranian banks, but it cannot do both.

For the overwhelming majority of foreign banks, the choice has been a simple one. Those with potentially sanctionable relationships quickly elected to stop that business. And where we learn of potentially sanctionable activity under CISADA, we have actively investigated it, engaging in particular with foreign bank’s regulator and home government.

Our efforts are paying off. Iran is now facing unprecedented levels of financial and commercial isolation. The number and quality of foreign banks willing to transact with designated Iranian financial institutions has dropped precipitously over the last year. Iran’s shrinking access to financial services and trade finance has made it extremely difficult for Iran to pay for imports and receive payment for exports. Iran’s Central Bank has been unable to halt the steady erosion in the value of its currency.

And Iran has been increasingly unable to attract foreign investment, especially in its oil fields, leading to a projected loss of $14 billion a year in oil revenues through 2016.

We are making progress, but there is still much to be done to prevent Iran from evading sanctions already in place and to apply sufficient additional pressure on Iran. In this regard, we continue to focus on the Central Bank of Iran (“the CBI”). Although U.S. financial institutions are already generally prohibited from doing business with any bank in Iran – including the CBI – further U.S. action against the CBI, if it attained multilateral support, could further isolate the CBI, with a potentially powerful impact on Iran. I can assure the Committee, as Secretary Geithner said in his letter of August 29, “All options to increase the financial pressure on Iran are on the table, including the possibility of imposing additional sanctions against the CBI.”

If Iran continues to choose its path of defiance, we will continue to develop new and innovative ways to impose additional costs on Iran. I look forward to continuing our work with Congress to advance our national interests.”

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.


SDGT OFAC Actions: Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) Added to OFAC’s SDN List on May 26, 2011

May 26, 2011

As of today, OFAC has added one (and 3 assumed names) SDGT entity to the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN List):

The following [SDGT] entries have been added to OFAC’s SDN list:

CAUCASUS EMIRATE (a.k.a. IMARAT KAVKAZ; a.k.a. IMIRAT KAVKAZ; a.k.a. ISLAMIC EMIRATE OF THE CAUCASUS) [SDGT]

IMARAT KAVKAZ (a.k.a. CAUCASUS EMIRATE; a.k.a. IMIRAT KAVKAZ; a.k.a. ISLAMIC EMIRATE OF THE CAUCASUS) [SDGT]

IMIRAT KAVKAZ (a.k.a. CAUCASUS EMIRATE; a.k.a. IMARAT KAVKAZ; a.k.a. ISLAMIC EMIRATE OF THE CAUCASUS) [SDGT]

ISLAMIC EMIRATE OF THE CAUCASUS (a.k.a. CAUCASUS EMIRATE; a.k.a. IMARAT KAVKAZ; a.k.a. IMIRAT KAVKAZ) [SDGT]

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Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List 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.

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OFAC SDN – Sanctions Law – Subject Matter Designation Lists

April 21, 2011

Attorney Douglas McNabb discusses the different types of OFAC SDN sanctions characterized by subject matter. Sanctions law provides for designations based on narcotics trafficking, terrorism, rough diamonds, and weapons of mass destruction proliferators.

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