Op-Eds

Thanks, Paul Manafort — for showing that the U.S. needs to crack down on dirty money

Over the past two weeks, Americans have been treated to one of the most astonishing tales of grand corruption in our republic’s history. The trial of Paul Manafort – former Trump campaign chairman and lobbyist for some of the sleaziest regimes of the past quarter-century – has given us a remarkable look at the tools, the tactics and the trade craft of kleptocratic overseas regimes, and how their Western enablers have abetted America’s transformation into a thriving offshore haven.

The trial, of course, is about much more than Manafort. As the Atlantic’s Franklin Foer has written, the proceedings against the ex-lobbyist, who made tens of millions from his consulting work for then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, have offered “an occasion for the United States to awaken from its collective slumber about the creeping dangers of kleptocracy.”

Are we getting the message?
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Countering Transnational Kleptocracy: How Democracies can lead the way

In the past few years, journalists and civil society activists have begun documenting globalized corruption on an unprecedented scale, from the Panama and Paradise Papers leaks and collaborative initiatives like the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project to the countless individuals and organizations working at great personal risk in regions of marginal interest to mainstream international audiences. A special mention should be made of Forbidden Stories, a sadly necessary project which enables journalists to “swarm” the investigations of slain colleagues, ensuring that their killers’ attempt to silence them backfires spectacularly.

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Legislative Sausage-Making and Anonymous Shell Companies

Unfortunately, the United States is the easiest place in the world to set up an anonymous shell company. It can be done online in a few minutes and for minimal cost, with no requirement that those who actually own or control the company disclose their ownership. Shell companies can also be registered to someone who provides his or her identity for a fee, known as a nominee, who can be a lawyer, accountant, another person connected to the real owner, or even another company or trust. As a former Treasury special agent, I can attest that the establishment of multiple “layers” where the true beneficiary is not known makes it extremely difficult to follow the criminal money trail.

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House AML Bill is a Missed Opportunity

By Gary Kalman

At first look, the banking community should be pleased with a bill scheduled for a vote this week in the House Financial Services Committee. Several provisions aim to reduce the compliance costs of financial institutions when trying to meet the requirements of anti-money-laundering rules.

Yet first looks can be deceiving.

A previous version of the bill, a discussion draft examined by the committee in November, included virtually all of the current provisions, such as incentives for innovation, increased information sharing and feedback from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and streamlining of suspicious activity reporting. But one provision missing from the latest draft of the bill is a section to require Fincen to collect beneficial ownership information at the time of corporate formation and share that information with financial institutions and law enforcement. Considering Fincen’s new customer due diligence rule, which requires banks to identify beneficial owners of certain corporate bank accounts, this provision would have reduced compliance costs and potential liability should banks find themselves at odds with their regulators over AML compliance.

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America must continue the fight against kleptocracy around the globe

Criminals and corrupt government officials and businesses use anonymous companies – usually registered in Western, developed countries – to move and hide assets, launder money, and evade law enforcement. The true owners of these companies should be required to report to authorities their identity when incorporating as a company or legal entity. This simple transparency would make it much harder for corrupt officials to steal vast wealth from their populations.

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Congress must step up sanctions law to stop American adversaries

Though it may seem fanciful, there is a powerful tool that is tailor made for simultaneously combating North Korean nukes, Russian aggression, Chinese influence, and Iranian maleficence. This tool is beneficial ownership. In practice, existing beneficial ownership rules in the United States require compliance departments to collect, verify, and store data on clients, all at a cost to the consumer.

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Op-ed: Follow the money of opioid trafficking

The president will now declare what many of us experience first hand: The opioid epidemic is a national emergency.

Frankly, with as many as 59,000 deaths in 2016, there doesn’t seem to be any other possible description.

So many dedicated people in cities and towns, faith communities and schools, families and hospitals are fighting to save lives and help people escape addiction.

But there are also a lot of people working to keep illegal opioids on the streets.

With 2.6 million opioid addicts in the United States, the scale of drug-running operations is immense, as are the profits. It’s not a mystery why the cartels build these operations; they do it for the money, and there is a lot of money to be had.

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Strip the World’s Worst Actors of a Key Financial Tool

Anonymous shell companies are the vehicle of choice for a wide variety of bad actors. Drug cartels and human trafficking operations have long understood the benefits of corporate secrecy to launder money. Terror groups have learned these lessons, and today illicit financing and evading sanctions are as much a part of their strategy as any bombing or attack. Corrupt leaders in nations around the world steal public funds to prop up their regimes, undermine democratic institutions and ideals, and create internal and regional instability.

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Op-ed: How an obscure business law facilitates human trafficking in massage parlors

Someone looking to comparison shop for commercial sex at one of Utah’s 50 or so illicit massage parlors can visit an online review board and get graphic descriptions of experiences with individual women in these locations.

Meanwhile, the privacy of the people who actually own the businesses where these acts take place is scrupulously protected nationwide by U.S. law. There is a very real and tragic cost to this irony. Research shows the majority of these women are likely victims of human trafficking. Corporate secrecy makes prosecuting the traffickers and helping the women find freedom extremely difficult.

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