FBI going after lawyers criminally and globally who help money launderers

By Christine Duhaime | October 24th, 2016

The FBI announced today that it has launched a program with resources to target and investigate criminally, lawyers and accountants who help money launderers launder proceeds of crime by providing services to them.

There have been lawyers who have been indicted and some convicted who have helped money launderers in a multitude of ways, including by allowing their trust accounts to be used to receive proceeds of crime, setting up beneficial ownership structures to hide the corporate or personal identity of a person who has proceeds of crime or corruption that they are investing in shares, homes, ventures and other businesses, or by assisting them to set up structures in tax havens to avoid taxes.

The reality is that many lawyers are likely used by criminals who have no idea that the intent of the advice is criminal.

Regardless of whether lawyers are used, unwittingly or not, they are what are called in anti-money laundering law as gatekeepers to the financial system and it is in that capacity that there is pressure to be compliant with anti-money laundering laws, and it is in that capacity that the FBI is interested.

As of today, the FBI intends to identify lawyers who are facilitators of money laundering activities in the US and internationally. The FBI has agents in Canada, most of whom are in Vancouver, and pursuant to the notice, the FBI will be working with international law enforcement partners on this new effort to the extent it involves the US financial system, US companies, US investment or US persons. Every financial transaction in the world involves the US financial system by virtue of the correspondent banking system.

Advice given to people who use lawyers for criminal purposes is not protected by privilege.

As part of the announcement, the FBI also said it was going after digital currencies (those are, for example, Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.) because of the anonymity that they give criminals to move money internationally in circumstances where wallets are used that do not have anti-money laundering law procedures in place.

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