Friday, April 22, 2005

FinCEN Seeks to Bar Two Latvian Banks from the U.S.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) filed a notice of proposed rulemaking to prohibit two Latvian banks headquartered in Riga, VEF Banka and Multibanka, from conducting financial transactions with banks in the United States because of possible money laundering activities at the banks.  Under the USA PATRIOT Act, U.S. financial institutions can be required to take "special measures" against foreign banks or other institutions when there is a "primary money laundering concern" regarding use of accounts for money laundering.  FinCEN seeks to adopt the "fifth special measure" which "prohibits or conditions the opening or maintaining of correspondent or payable through accounts for the designated institution by U.S. financial institutions."

According to the FinCEN release on VEF Banka (here), "The bank’s dealings with foreign shell companies, provision of confidential banking services, and lack of controls and procedures adequate to the risks involved, make VEF vulnerable to money laundering and other financial crimes. As a result of the significant number of credit and debit transactions involving entities that appear to be shell corporations banking at VEF, some U.S. financial institutions have already closed correspondent relationships with VEF." Regarding Multibanka, the FinCEN release (here) states, "Multibanka offers confidential banking services and numbered accounts for non-Latvian customers. Reports substantiate that a significant portion of its business involves wiring money out of the country on behalf of its accountholders. The bank has been suspected of being used by Russian and other shell companies to facilitate financial crime. A common way for criminals to disguise illegal proceeds is to establish shell companies in countries known for lax enforcement of anti-money laundering laws. The criminals use the shell companies to conceal the true ownership of the accounts and assets, which is ideal for the laundering of funds." (ph)

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