Can Big Bank Money Laundering Be Stopped? And, If So, How?

Guest Writer, September 26 2020

He warned the two U.S. officials of a "contagion" - with the implication being close one bank and the whole economy could suffer. What happened? Federal prosecutors stood down.


By Dave Allen. This is the second of a two-part dive into BuzzFeed News' recent study on money laundering in too-big-to-fail U.S. banks.

Part One, which appeared in Monday's American Survival newsletter, gave an overview of this widespread criminal enterprise and listed examples from the study of how it has infected our financial institutions and the people who run them. Part Two asks the simple questions, can money laundering be stopped? And, if so, how? The answer to at least the first question appears simple and straightforward...

Financial crime experts say if the government really wanted to, it could stop the dirty money that's being cleaned by the big banks and enriching them - and the broad range of criminality and criminals they fund. How to stop it is another story - or stories.

 THE FIX IS IN: One easy fix, BuzzFeed argues, would be to "require companies to disclose their owners to the Treasury Department, rather than allowing people to hide behind a shell company." 

Congress is considering a rare bipartisan bill that could address disclosure for smaller companies. I guess you could call it a start - albeit belated and underachieving.

The National Federation of Independent Business has opposed the bill, saying it raises privacy issues and would increase costs unnecessarily. 

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a cosponsor of the bill, said, "Congress must act soon because criminals have long been revising, adjusting, and amending their tactics to circumvent our laws."

"Greater public accountability" is another idea BuzzFeed says "could make a difference."

As a prime example, they point to HSBC, which continues to fight to keep hidden from public view the final report by the government inspector responsible for watching over the bank during the years of its deferred prosecution agreement. 

HSBC even took the unusual step of weighing in on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, when BuzzFeed News sued the Justice Department to release the FinCEN Files report. 

(As explained in Part One of our story, FinCEN, which is an agency within the U.S. Department of Treasury, stands for Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.)

Knowing that negative reports could be made public and potentially damage reputations and, ultimately, share prices - not to mention send executives to prison - could cause offending banks to clean up their acts.

Others believe the SARs themselves are part of the problem, calling the idea behind them "naïve." 

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