A powerful UK legislature is demanding responses from the UK government to “deeply worrying” findings in the FinCEN files, a global investigation based on a variety of documents made available by BuzzFeed News to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The investigation revealed how the giants of Western banking are handling suspicious transactions worth billions of dollars, enriching themselves and their shareholders while facilitating the actions of terrorists, kleptocrats and drug queens. The documents identified shortcomings in a number of the UK’s largest banks, including HSBC, Standard Chartered and Barclays.
“Some of the information from the publication of the FinCEN papers is deeply troubling,” said Mel Stride, the Conservative chairman of Parliament’s finance committee, in a statement released on Wednesday.
He said he had sent a series of formal questions to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government asking if the government was doing enough to stop money laundering and expressed particular concern about HM Revenue and Customs, the UK’s tax office Government, and the Financial Conduct Authority watchdog of financial crime. “The finance committee wants to know if ministers, HMRC and FCA go beyond that,” he wrote.
Stride wanted to know if HMRC is “an effective money laundering chief”. He also asked whether UK law enforcement agencies would “follow up on the information in the FinCEN papers” and whether the FCA would “take enforcement action”.
The FinCEN files focus on more than 2,000 “suspicious transaction reports” that banks must file with the US Treasury Department when they discover transactions that have the characteristics of money laundering or other financial misconduct. While SARs are not evidence of a crime, they can aid investigation and information gathering.
British companies were named more than 3,000 times in the suspicious transaction reports – more than any other country. In a US Treasury Department report on FinCEN files, the UK was described as a “higher risk jurisdiction” and compared to notorious financial centers “like Cyprus”. Stride wanted to know if the government viewed this “higher risk jurisdiction” status as a “cause for concern”.
In a letter to the FCA, Stride asked what action British financial regulators had taken after the findings. He also asked for clarity about what still needs to be done to “continue to protect the financial system from white-collar crime in light of the information in the FinCen files”.
In another letter, this time to the UK Home Office, Stride asked if UK law enforcement agencies were “following up” on the information in FinCEN’s files to see if “more could be done to combat white-collar crime”. Under UK law, banks are required to file suspicious activity reports with the National Crime Agency and he asked about implementing an improved system to help UK law enforcement agencies deal better with SARs.
“With different roles in the fight against white-collar crime,” said Stride in his statement, “it is important that the appropriate parts of the system are operational when necessary.”