Casting A Light On Complex Networks To Disrupt Financial Crime

The global, connected web of financial criminality is difficult to unpick.  However, investigations over the past few years have shed light on the few, yet critically important bad apples amongst the network of financial institutions that enable this web to go un-checked. While many of these simply may lack the adequate controls to tackle money laundering or terrorist financing, other financial institutions have taken a much more direct role in criminal activity. The use of financial intelligence and investigation techniques present an opportunity for the regulated sectors to disrupt criminality at scale and efficiently. As such we are excited to announce the appointment of Nick Herrod as head of our Financial Intelligence and Investigations practice, who will help us drive solutions for clients that continue to deliver impact.

During a recent event hosted by Thomson Reuters, OCCRP Executive Director Paul Radu was asked how the international community should tackle the global and seemingly untouchable scourge of financial crime. His response was telling — go after the financial institutions, big or small, that facilitate the criminal activity. This is an interesting strategy to take, and targeting the institutions facilitating criminal activity presents an opportunity to disrupt criminality on a wholesale basis. The team at FINTRAIL decided to examine this subject in more detail, yielding some interesting results. Through our research we have found that one of the most significant red flags when it comes to these types of institutions (and counterparty risk) is the influence of high risk individuals/PEPs within the ownership structure. To better understand this, two public case studies are detailed below—the Global Laundromat and the BGFIBank Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)/Hezbollah connection. It is evident that the links between financial institutions and owners more susceptible to criminal motivations can affect the robustness of an institution’s compliance regime and undermine industry efforts to counter financial crime. Taking an intelligence-led approach and exploiting a range of data sources allows us to highlight additional red flags and begin targeting the key nodes and facilitators of this volume criminal activity.

The Global (Russian) Laundromat: This laundromat, exposed by the OCCRP[1] three years ago, funnelled more than $20.8 billion from Russia into Europe. OCCRP reports show that it involved approximately 500 people, from oligarchs to FSB-affiliated individuals.

Igor Putin, cousin to current Russian President Vladimir Putin was a manager and executive board member for the Russian Land Bank (RZB), an institution whose accounts reportedly processed more than $9.7 billion, or nearly half of the total funds involved in the laundromat case. Funds were sent from RZB to Moldindconbank in Moldova, where they were then sent to Trasta Komercbanka in Latvia and from there to the rest of Europe. The OCCRP adds that Igor Putin was brought into RZB initially by Alexander Grigoriev, who allegedly has ties to the FSB and whom the Guardian identified as one of the main ringleaders of the Laundromat. Grigoriev headed the RZB during the laundromat’s operation until the time of his arrest. Putin and Grigoriev were also connected through other companies where Putin was a board member and Grigoriev a shareholder. Putin left the RZB board in 2014 contending he left after becoming aware of ‘the real situation.’[2]

BGFIBank DRC and Hezbollah: According to a recent Sentry report[3], BGFIBank DRC, run by the brother and sister of the president of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, reportedly allowed transactions from companies connected to a known financial contributor to Hezbollah: Kasim Tajideen. Tajideen, and his brothers Ali and Husayn, were subject to US sanctions, as were entities under their control. Despite this, and despite warnings from BGFIBank DRC employees, the financial ties between the bank and the sanctioned parties reportedly remained intact. Subsidiaries of Ovlas Trading, owned by Kassim Tajideen, would make transfers through BGFIBank DRC to subsidiaries of Congo Futur, managed by Kassim’s non-sanctioned brother, Ahmed Tajideen. Both Ovlas Trading and Congo Futur are under US sanctions, though Ahmed is not. Despite employee awareness of the risks involved, transactions from the sanctioned entities were allowed to continue, and BGFIBank DRC even went as far as to request the US Treasury unblock a transaction involving one of Tajideen’s companies and another bank. BGFIBank DRC had previously been alleged of diverting millions of dollars in public funds, further calling in to question the AML/CTF regime of BGFIBank DRC and the role the bank’s leadership played in the activity.

These two sample cases demonstrate how financial institution ownership from individuals more susceptible to criminal motivations can encourage complicity or active participation in criminal networks facilitating financial crime. In both, banks with ties to PEPs and high-risk individuals allowed significant cash flows to be laundered and used for criminal purposes. Though only two cases are discussed here, the findings still show how the use of financial crime intelligence and investigations can be utilised to go beyond the basic information generated by many static compliance controls, help better the understanding of evolving typologies and surface new opportunities to counter the capricious threat of financial crime.

At FINTRAIL we have seen an unprecedented level of interest in the financial intelligence and investigation capabilities we offer to our financial service clients, from start-ups to established firms. As such, Nick’s arrival to lead FINTRAIL’s Financial Intelligence and Investigations practice could not be more timely. Nick brings an exceptional pedigree to the experienced team at FINTRAIL after completing a range of public and private sector roles, culminating in his position as the Head of Global Intelligence Team within HSBC’s Financial Intelligence Unit where he was responsible for overseeing a significant portfolio of investigations that focused predominately on large, multi-jurisdictional networks facilitating illicit financial activity. Nick will continue to build on FINTRAIL’s strategy in this area, understanding the needs of our clients of all sizes and ensuring that we are delivering a suite of capabilities and solutions to help our clients mitigate the negative impacts of financial crime.