WASHINGTON Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Monday that he will introduce anti-money-laundering legislation next month that would restrict banks ability to open correspondent accounts for certain types of foreign institutions and give U.S. law enforcement agencies the authority to seize assets held in such accounts.
Sen. Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committees permanent subcommittee on investigations, said that the legislation would incorporate many of the recommendations contained in a 305-page report released Monday by the subcommittees minority staff.
The report found that the correspondent accounts, which let banks in other countries do business here through U.S.-licensed banks, commonly operate with little or no scrutiny by the banks that offer them.
The report named a number of prominent U.S. banks that offered correspondent services to foreign institutions involved in questionable activities. Among those named are Citibank, Bank of America, the former J.P. Morgan and Chase Manhattan banks, First Union, and Bank of New York. The report said several banks told subcommittee investigators they were unaware that the accounts were being misused and closed them.
Our banks have too often been asleep at the switch, or just do not care, said Sen. Levin.
John Byrne, senior counsel for the American Bankers Association, disagreed with the characterization of banks as negligent. The U.S. banking industry has a tremendous record of protecting against money laundering. Our vigilance is already so high-level that I think it is unfair to make those broad statements.
The legislation that Sen. Levin plans to introduce would prohibit banks from offering correspondent services to foreign institutions without offices or branches so-called shell banks. Shell banks frequently have no operations other than those they conduct through correspondent arrangements, and often surface in money laundering cases, he said.
Banks would be required to do extra due diligence when opening a correspondent account for offshore banks, which are typically licensed by a government of a country, such the Cayman Islands, but are prohibited from doing business with any of its citizens. (The report estimated that 4,000 offshore banks, with assets of $5 trillion, operate worldwide.)