Arrest of FinCEN employee for SARs disclosure
The US government has arrested an employee of FinCEN for providing copies of suspicious activity reports (“SAR”) to the media.
SARs disclosure is illegal
SARs are required to be filed and submitted by certain reporting entities, such as banks, to FinCEN when the bank or its employees, have reasonable grounds to suspect that a financial transaction is associated with a money laundering offence.
SARs contain personal and private information of a person or a company and because they involve a subjective determination, can cause harm to a person or a business if filed without justification. As a result, the legislation protects the filer of the information and also protects the filing itself.
It is a criminal offence to disclose the filing of a SAR, or the contents of such to anyone other than FinCEN (or in Canada, FINTRAC). Reporting entities such as banks and casinos, that file SARs (STRs in Canada), are protected from law suits over wrongful filings provided they themselves do not violate the disclosure laws. The reason for the protection in respect of reporting entities such as banks is that they would not provide full disclosure if there was a possibility, however remote, that the public or the media would see a filed SAR. Reporting entities that give copies of STRs to other government agencies or to law enforcement in violation of federal law are not protected and such unauthorized disclosures can be compelled by anyone under privacy legislation because the disclosure thereof to unauthorized parties render them a non-protected document.
There is no protection over the investigation files, notes and documents, as well as SARs that are held with banks or other reporting entities, however, meaning that they can be compelled and have been compelled for litigation purposes.
Disclosure of terrorist financing reports
According to the criminal complaint, over the course of a year, the FinCEN employee, Natalie Edwards, allegedly provided SARs to a reporter and described the contents of several other SARs over Telegram. At first, she allegedly lied to the FBI and denied having supplied federal records to a reporter and then subsequently allegedly admitted it.
She is alleged to have saved 24,000 FinCEN files on a flash drive, including many SARs and records of a highly sensitive nature involving financial transactions of Iranian foreign nationals and terrorist financing of ISIS.