Documents uncovered by an investigation conducted by 110 news organizations appear to show global banking giants moving trillions of dollars for clients allegedly involved in fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, and more, as the banks defend themselves against the allegations. Meanwhile, the crypto community appears to be divided as to whether it spells good news for crypto in general, and bitcoin (BTC) in particular. (Updated at 17:45 UTC: updates in bold.)
The evidence was uncovered by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in a new report. The consortium said that it, together with BuzzFeed News and 108 other media organization, conducted a 16-month, cross-border investigation, and revealed the leaked documents, now known as the FinCenFiles.
The consortium wrote that “secret United States government documents reveal” that global banks “have defied money laundering crackdowns by moving staggering sums of illicit cash for shadowy characters and criminal networks.” The five named banks are JPMorgan, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon.
Furthermore, the leaked documents allegedly “show banks blindly moving cash through their accounts for people they can’t identify, failing to report transactions with all the hallmarks of money laundering until years after the fact, even doing business with clients enmeshed in financial frauds and public corruption scandals.”
These files, the authors said, include more than 2,100 suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed by banks and other financial firms with the United States Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN.
“[The] documents identify more than [USD] 2 trillion in transactions between 1999 and 2017 that were flagged by financial institutions’ internal compliance officers as possible money laundering or other criminal activity — including [USD] 514 billion at JPMorgan and [USD] 1.3 trillion at Deutsche Bank. […] The FinCEN Files represent less than 0.02% of the more than 12 million suspicious activity reports that financial institutions filed with FinCEN between 2011 and 2017.”
ICIJ added that United States agencies responsible for enforcing money-laundering laws rarely prosecute megabanks that break the law, “and the actions authorities do take barely ripple the flood of plundered money that washes through the international financial system.”
Per the authors, the data shows that Deutsche Bank is leading by some distance, with JPMorgan in second place.
“Mobsters pushed billions through Deutsche Bank in one of the biggest dirty money scams ever,” tweeted BuzzFeed News, adding that “small businesses were crushed” in the process.
The news outlet further claimed that the bank’s executives “had direct knowledge for years of serious failings that left the bank vulnerable to money launderers.” After a USD 10 billion mirror trading scandal was exposed, “Deutsche Bank blamed it on a few middle-level staffers in its Moscow office, paid a fine, and got back to business,” reported BuzzFeed News.
Crypto as a systemic threat
News of the traditional banking system’s alleged wrongdoings came as little surprise to the crypto community.
And the irony of the situation was not lost on many commentators: While regulators ramp up the pressure on the crypto industry, particularly in the field of anti-money laundering (AML) measures, the banking sector appears to be running roughshod over the very same AML rules.
And they said only #bitcoin used by criminals…# https://t.co/Sa5V3htpZR
— Bitquery.io ( Bloxy ) (@Bitquery_io)
Commenting on a report on HSBC’s drop to a 25-year low today in the stock market, the CEO of crypto exchange Binance, Changpeng Zhao, tweeted that it “might be a good time for their treasury to buy bitcoin?”
However, Anndy Lian, investor and blockchain adviser, didn’t agree that this was a good idea, writing: “On the contrary, I hope HSBC to stay away from bitcoin. Early stages mess the soup.”
Others, like the Chief Legal Officer of crypto exchange Kraken, Marco Santori, also claimed that this will not help Bitcoin’s cause at all.
“If you think this is good for bitcoin, man you are going to be so disappointed,” he said. “I wonder if this will compel FinCEN to publish more information about the efficacy of its enforcement activity. It would serve to quell many complaints to the tune of “Why do we send all this info to FinCEN – what good has it done?”
Others, like GetLevvel CEO Chris Hart, also chimed in saying that there is a risk that “the answer to a perception of poor enforcement is more enforcement, and ‘more’ isn’t limited to fiat-based transactions.”
Bitcoin educator, author, and entrepreneur Andreas Antonopoulos also stressed that this leak will be used against cryptocurrencies. According to him, the correct analysis of this news is that AML/CTF (counter terrorism financing) and KYC (know your customer) don’t work and the report will be used to increase the use of controls and surveillance.