Saturday Special: The biggest money laundering scandals in banking
Financial watchdog the FCA warned challenger banks earlier this year to stop cutting corners in combating financial crime so that customers can set up accounts quickly and easily.
Sarah Pritchard, who heads the market division of the City regulator, said in May that there cannot be a “trade-off” between getting customers to come into the fold and the checks that all banks need to do.
Money laundering is a major concern for businesses and financial institutions across the City and beyond, and even the biggest companies struggle to stop it from happening.
“Money laundering is a major issue on a global scale and while these organisations did not necessarily knowingly allow themselves to be abused by launderers, this doesn’t absolve them from their responsibilities or the consequences,” said Tim Barnett, CEO of Credas Technologies.
“Don’t be fooled, criminal organisations target companies of all shapes and sizes in order to wash their ill-gotten gains. If they see a potential laundering opportunity, they will take it,” he told City A.M.
To illustrate the damage being caused by this criminal activity, City A.M. zooms in on one of the biggest laundering cases in history.
HSBC – Fined $1.9bn
HSBC was fined $1.9 billion in 2012 for having insufficient AML measures in place which enabled around $8 billion to be laundered over seven years.
It was also found that the bank provided services to terrorist organisations and allowed transactions involving blacklisted counties like Iran and North Korea.
Wachovia Bank – Fined $160m
In 2010, Wachovia Bank, now part of Wells Fargo, was one of the biggest banks in the US when authorities discovered it had enabled Mexican cartels to launder an estimated $390 billion between 2004-2007.
As a result, the bank was fined $160 million.
Standard Chartered Bank – Fined $1.1bn
When Standard Chartered Bank was found to have failed to implement sufficient anti-money laundering (AML) practices and thus enabled $265 billion to be laundered by criminal groups from various global nations, authorities issued fines totalling an estimated $1.1 billion.
Danske Bank – Fined $1.4bn
Between 2007-15, it’s alleged that weak AML controls at Danske’s Estonia branch enabled thousands of suspicious customers to launder around $228 billion.
The bank was suspended from operating in Estonia and a number of its executives were criminally charged.
Authorities are still working out how much the bank should be fined, but it’s estimated to end up being around $1.4 billion.
Bank of Credit and Commerce International – Liquidated
Between the mid-80s and mid-90s, BCCI was found to have enabled money laundering activity to the tune of $23 billion. Investigators say the bank was formed specifically to circumvent regulatory supervision, using shell companies, secrecy havens, kickbacks, and even bribery to avoid the suspicion of inspectors.
The bank quickly went into liquidation, owing more than $10 billion to creditors.
Commerzbank – Fined $50m
In 2020, the London branch of Commerzbank was fined $50 million, one of the biggest fines in UK history, for ignoring multiple warnings from regulators and failing to implement adequate AML measures between 2016-17, resulting in $347 million being laundered.
Westpac Bank – Fined AU$1.3bn
Between 2013-19, Westpac failed to adhere to the necessary AML and anti-terroism measures and did not properly report more than 19 million international money transfers to the regulator.
This enabled more than AU$11 billion to be laundered, for which the bank was fined AU$1.3 billion.
Goldman Sachs – $600m in profits
In Malaysia, Goldman Sachs was involved in the notorious decade-long 1MBD scandal, involving bribery, laundering, and gross misuse of customer funds which brought in $600 million profit for the bank. As a result, it was fined $2.9 billion by the US, $3.9 billion by Malaysia, and a further $350 million by Hong Kong