Drug traffickers among HSBC’s best customers


The British Ministry of Finance and Customs (HMR) has opened an investigation into accounts at HSBC whose owners are British citizens on the island of Jersey, known for its low taxes.

As reported by the Daily Telegraph, the investigation was launched after an anonymous tip that gave details of UK customers with accounts in the island and abroad.

Members of the list of 4388 people include famous people who keep some 699 million pounds out of the country and billions of pounds in investment plans.

The newspaper said the list of people in Jersey includes Daniel Bayes, a famous drug dealer and ex-con who is currently in Venezuela, and Michael Lee, who has been declared guilty of illegal possession of hundreds of weapons. There are also three bankers who in the past were prosecuted for massive fraud.

The bank has the legal obligation to report when in doubt about the origin of the funds deposited in the accounts. The London company increased to $ 1,500 million provision sanctions that it may have to pay the U.S. for money laundering.

Jersey, the largest island of the Channel of La Mancha, is a parliamentary democracy with its own financial, legal and independent judiciary. Its tax haven status increasingly irritated the British, affected by the recession and a significant deficit.

It is not the first time authorities find that HSBC bank and others like Wells Fargo and Wachovia help transfer millions and in some cases billions of dollars across the world even though the origin of such large amounts of money are unknown. Back in May, the Vancouver Sun reported on how HSBC allowed the laundering of large amounts of cash through accounts that belonged to some of its wealthiest customers. In its report, the Sun related how documents and e-mails showed that HSBC not only didn’t inquire about the origin of the funds, but also worked hard to conceal the transfer of the cash from clients of Iranian, Lebanese, Brazilian and Cuban origin. Most suspicious transactions are done through the HSBC’s New York and Miami offices.

Bloomberg also reported on how HSBC, Wachovia, Bank of America laundered billions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels. In that case, smugglers had bought the DC-9 with laundered funds they transferred through two of the biggest banks in the U.S.: Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp., Bloomberg Markets magazine reported in its August 2010 issue. Wachovia bank alone laundered $378.4 billion for Mexican-currency-exchange houses from 2004 to 2007. That’s the largest violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, an anti-money-laundering law, in U.S. history.

Much of the drug trafficking money laundered by international banks is said to end in places such as the stock market to which many attribute the fact that the global economy did not completely collapse in 2008. A big chunk of drug money goes to finance intelligence operations for the CIA and the rest goes to buy large portions of land and resources around the planet.

In the case of HSBC, money laundering actions are part of a “disguised scheme that moves trillions of dollars between banks each day. Under this system, banks in the United States are used to move massive amounts of illicit funds,” said Jennifer Shasky Calvery, head of the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, while providing her testimony in a congressional hearing last February.

According to the report on the Vancouver Sun, banks such as HSBC understaffs its anti-money laundering compliance division and hires incompetent personnel to watch over the transactions that are normally kept under the radar. “HSBC failed to review thousands of internal anti-money laundering alerts and generate legally required suspicious activity reports, or SARs, on transactions picked up by the bank’s internal monitoring system.” Suspicious activity is sent to law enforcement to be studied and watched over. Back in May of 2010, HSBC had a stockpile of almost 50,000 reports of suspicious activity which had not been passed on to authorities.

Perhaps the most amazing detail shown in the documents related to the ongoing investigation against HSBC is that “management intentionally decided” not to look into some cases of suspicious activity. “There appear to be instances where Bank employees are misrepresenting data” which is sent to senior managers. In other cases managers simply changed risk ratings for some transactions so that they would not set off the fraud alarms.

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D.E.A. Launders Mexican Profits of Drug Cartels

by Ginger Thompson
December 5, 2011

Undercover American narcotics agents have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds as part of Washington’s expanding role in Mexico’s fight against drug cartels, according to current and former federal law enforcement officials.

The agents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Administration, have handled shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders, those officials said, to identify how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are.

They said agents had deposited the drug proceeds in accounts designated by traffickers, or in shell accounts set up by agents.

The officials said that while the D.E.A. conducted such operations in other countries, it began doing so in Mexico only in the past few years. The high-risk activities raise delicate questions about the agency’s effectiveness in bringing down drug kingpins, underscore diplomatic concerns about Mexican sovereignty, and blur the line between surveillance and facilitating crime. As it launders drug money, the agency often allows cartels to continue their operations over months or even years before making seizures or arrests.

Agency officials declined to publicly discuss details of their work, citing concerns about compromising their investigations. But Michael S. Vigil, a former senior agency official who is currently working for a private contracting company called Mission Essential Personnel, said, “We tried to make sure there was always close supervision of these operations so that we were accomplishing our objectives, and agents weren’t laundering money for the sake of laundering money.”

Another former agency official, who asked not to be identified speaking publicly about delicate operations, said, “My rule was that if we are going to launder money, we better show results. Otherwise, the D.E.A. could wind up being the largest money launderer in the business, and that money results in violence and deaths.”

Those are precisely the kinds of concerns members of Congress have raised about a gun-smuggling operation known as Fast and Furious, in which agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed people suspected of being low-level smugglers to buy and transport guns across the border in the hope that they would lead to higher-level operatives working for Mexican cartels. After the agency lost track of hundreds of weapons, some later turned up in Mexico; two were found on the United States side of the border where an American Border Patrol agent had been shot to death.

Former D.E.A. officials rejected comparisons between letting guns and money walk away. Money, they said, poses far less of a threat to public safety. And unlike guns, it can lead more directly to the top ranks of criminal organizations.

“These are not the people whose faces are known on the street,” said Robert Mazur, a former D.E.A. agent and the author of a book about his years as an undercover agent inside the Medellín cartel in Colombia. “They are super-insulated. And the only way to get to them is to follow their money.”

Another former drug agency official offered this explanation for the laundering operations: “Building up the evidence to connect the cash to drugs, and connect the first cash pickup to a cartel’s command and control, is a very time consuming process. These people aren’t running a drugstore in downtown L.A. that we can go and lock the doors and place a seizure sticker on the window. These are sophisticated, international operations that practice very tight security. And as far as the Mexican cartels go, they operate in a corrupt country, from cities that the cops can’t even go into.”

The laundering operations that the United States conducts elsewhere — about 50 so-called Attorney General Exempt Operations are under way around the world — had been forbidden in Mexico after American customs agents conducted a cross-border sting without notifying Mexican authorities in 1998, which was how most American undercover work was conducted there up to that point.

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Illegal drug money saved banks during global finance disaster


Billions of dollars from the illegal drug business was the only thing that kept the global financial system from collapsing at the height of the banking crisis just over a year ago, according to the head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

“In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital,” Antonio Maria Costa said. “In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor.”

“That was the moment when the system was basically paralyzed because of the unwillingness of banks to lend money to one another.”

According to the International Monetary Fund, banks in the United States and Europe lost more than $1 trillion between January 2007 and September 2009 due to bad loans and “toxic assets,” or investments whose value fell so drastically that they could no longer be sold for a satisfactory price. This led to the failure, government takeover or forced acquisition of many financial institutions.

Costa said his office has seen evidence that $352 billion from the illegal drug trade was funneled to banks at this time, keeping them afloat.

“Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities,” Costa said.

“There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.”

Drug traffickers have typically kept their earnings in cash or offshore accounts in order to conceal their profits from law enforcement. The flow of this money into the banking system has now “laundered” it, however, making it functionally impossible to track.

Costa’s office received its information from the governments of Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. It chose not to publicly identify any of the banks involved, saying its role is to identify problems, not lay blame.

“The progressive liquidation to the system and the progressive improvement by some banks of their share values [has meant that] the problem [of illegal money] has become much less serious than it was,” he said.