We’ve just had the closest look yet at the global battle against money laundering, and it’s deeply troubling: Banks and their regulators are nowhere near restraining the flow of trillions of dollars of illicit funds.
Both the finance industry and the authorities are to blame. Without an urgent, concerted political effort, criminals — from drug dealers and terrorists to human traffickers — will keep the upper hand.
In a year-long investigation by BuzzFeed and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, reporters pored over about 2,100 suspicious activity reports, or SARs, which lenders file to the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) when they spot potential money laundering and other bad behavior.
While the number of SARs reviewed by the journalists dwarfs any previous access to these confidential documents, they’re still just a tiny fraction — 0.02% — of the 12 million or so SARs that were probably filed during the period in question, mostly 2011 through 2017. Also, the sample isn’t representative of overall banking activity. Some records stem from the U.S. congressional investigation into interference with the 2016 presidential election. Almost half of the SARs came from Deutsche Bank AG.