General Janet Reno on Thursday unveiled a strategy on money laundering that could reshape how banks are regulated at home and how they conduct their business overseas.
"This strategy marks a new stage in the government's coordinated effort to follow the money," Mr. Summers said at a news conference. "The laundering of money threatens to taint our financial institutions and undermine public trust in their integrity."
Federal banking regulators and law enforcement authorities will form a working group within three months to review how banks scrutinize high-risk accounts and to recommend improvements. Guidelines will be developed to help banks spot suspicious accounts, trace their owners, and foil attempts by criminals to hide their activities.
Another panel will be asked to develop guidelines to be followed by independent auditors banks hire to ensure that they are not being used to launder money.
Banking regulators also will spend six months studying the adequacy of exam procedures that determine whether financial institutions have proper anti-money-laundering controls and policies. They will consider whether law enforcement officials should assist bank examiners in scrutinizing financial institutions for money laundering risks.
On the international front, Mr. Summers and Ms. Reno proposed ways that foreign governments and offshore banks could be pressured into adopting standards to stop the flow of criminal funds.
For example, Treasury officials said they are seeking guidelines through the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and other international organizations to raise the cost of doing business in countries with inadequate money-laundering laws. Under such a plan, loans made to parties in these jurisdictions would bear a higher risk weighting.
The strategy was announced a day after the House Banking Committee completed hearings on the scandal involving the possible movement of billions in illegal Russian monies through accounts at Bank of New York. Government officials denied that their strategy was a hasty reaction to the growing controversy.
But "this is a strategy that has been an effort in progress for a number of months, long before the Bank of New York hit the papers," said Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart E. Eizenstat. He noted that a 1998 law required that the plan be completed by February of this year.
Guidelines devised by the working group of banking regulators and law enforcement officials will focus on correspondent banking accounts. These are the type of accounts Bank of New York provided Russian and other overseas banks and are at the heart of the scandal. Officials will consider whether U.S. financial institutions should be barred from opening such accounts for banks based in countries with inadequate supervision.
Some details of the plan are not new, including requiring nonbanks to file suspicious-activity reports. Mr. Eizenstat said that Treasury soon will issue rules that would require casinos and check cashers and other money services businesses to file such reports.
And Treasury said that it plans to work with the Securities and Exchange Commission on a proposal to require broker-dealers to file suspicious-activity reports.
As expected, Mr. Summers and Ms. Reno also introduced legislation that would broaden the list of crimes -- to include public corruption and arms trafficking -- that may be prosecuted under U.S. money-laundering laws. The legislation would make it illegal to launder criminally obtained funds through foreign banks, and give prosecutors more access to foreign business records.
Bipartisan legislation offered this week by House Banking Chairman Jim Leach contains many of the changes called for by the administration.