Standard Chartered fined $300 million over money laundering controls

NEW YORK (TIP): New York state’s banking regulator hit Standard Chartered Bank with a $300 million fine and restrictions on its dollar-clearing business on Tuesday for not detecting possible money laundering. The New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) said the British bank’s internal compliance systems had failed to detect or act on a large number of “potentially high-risk transactions” mostly originating from Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.

The new punishment came two years after the bank paid US regulators $667 million to settle charges it violated US sanctions by handling thousands of money transactions involving Iran, Myanmar, Libya and Sudan. A DFS monitor appointed in 2012 to keep an eye on the bank discovered that it had not detected the allegedly high-risk transactions from Hong Kong and the UAE or reported them as it should have, the department said. “If a bank fails to live up to its commitments, there should be consequences.

That is particularly true in an area as serious as anti-moneylaundering compliance, which is vital to helping prevent terrorism and vile human rights abuses,” said DFS head Benjamin Lawsky. The department did not give any information on the nature of the transactions, or whether they proved to involve laundering or not. In a settlement agreed with the bank, DFS ordered Standard Chartered to halt dollar-clearing operations for unnamed “high-risk retail business clients” of its Hong Kong unit.

The bank is already cutting business with high-risk clients in UAE, but will also not be able to process dollar funds through the United States for them. Its New York branch also is forbidden to take on any clearing or deposit accounts from new customers without the approval of Lawsky’s office.

‘Serious blow’

The fine would have a negative impact on the bank’s reputation and international business, independent financial analyst Francis Lun told AFP. “It’s really an oversight on the part of Standard Chartered. They’d already paid a huge penalty still they installed a system that is useless,” Lun said. “It will create tremendous problems with their international clients who cannot settle their accounts in US dollars.

It will be a serious blow to Standard Chartered group’s international business,” Lun said. Standard Chartered is based in London but has traditionally done most of its business in Asia and the Middle East. It said it accepted responsibility and “regrets the deficiencies in the antimoney laundering transaction surveillance system at its New York branch.” It added that it would work with clients in Hong Kong and UAE affected by the DFS requirements “to minimize disruption.” “The group remains fully committed to Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates as key markets,” the bank said.

Hong Kong-listed shares in the bank fell 0.19 percent, to HK$157.8 ($20.36) in afternoon trade, while the Hang Seng Index remained flat. “$300 million isn’t a big number…investors will be fine with this penalty,” Tanrich Securities vice president Jackson Wong said. The action taken against Standard Chartered is part of an ongoing crackdown by New York state and federal authorities on banks, particularly foreign banks with New York branches, for handling money transfers from countries and individuals blacklisted by Washington for political reasons or for their involvement in criminal activities.

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