More than 100 news organizations from around the world recently released a detailed investigation into the financial corruption enabled by international banks – do Americans even care?
Last weekend, BuzzFeed News, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and more than 100 international news organizations released the FinCEN Files investigation detailing how a plethora of international banks are permitting financial transactions linked to drug cartels, human trafficking, and oligarchs. The series gets its name from the US Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and is based on more than 2,100 leaked “suspicious activity reports” (SARs) and other US government documents.
U.S. law requires SARs be filed to FinCEN when a bank or a financial institution believes transactions moving through their organizations could involve money laundering, insider trading, cyber attacks or various types of fraud. These SARs are typically never revealed to the public and they are not available via Freedom of Information Act requests.
The FinCEN leaks involve more than $2 trillion USD worth of flagged transactions from 1999 to 2017. While the unprecedented look at SARs does offer a glimpse into the world international finance, the ICIJ says the 2,100 SARs represent less than .02 percent of the more than 12 million filed during this time period.
The transactions involve a wide range of international banks, including JPMorgan, HSBC, Deutsche Bank AG, and VTB Bank. Key highlights from the leaks and subsequent stories involve JPMorgan processing payments for “potentially corrupt individuals and companies in Venezuela, Ukraine and Malaysia”; HSBC laundering Ponzi scheme money ; and a Ukrainian billionaire being paid via Deutchse Bank AG. The ICIJ also includes a list of the billionaires exposed by the leaks. Most of the names will not be familiar to a western audience, save for Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former political strategist who was convicted of fraud in 2018. JP Morgan processed more than $50 million in payments for Manafort over a decade that were flagged as suspicious.
One story discovered in the SARs involves North Korea and an apparent money laundering scheme involving “a string of shell companies” and help from Chinese companies.