WASHINGTON — Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., an aggressive prosecutor of money laundering cases, made a strong appeal Monday for information-sharing between banks and law enforcement.
In a speech to industry representatives, Vance tried to allay concerns that the suspicious activity reports that banks send to law-enforcement agencies are never actually read by anyone.
"I want to start by putting that to rest," he said.
At the same time, Vance said that information-sharing should be a two-way street. He spoke about an effort that his office has started to provide information from its investigations to financial institutions.
"It's a partnership between law enforcement and the financial community, done with appropriate constraints and appropriate sharing of information," Vance said.
His remarks came at the annual anti-money laundering conference sponsored by the American Bankers Association and the American Bar Association.
The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has been involved in high-profile international money-laundering cases that resulted in large penalties against three foreign banks — Credit Suisse, Barclays and Lloyds TSB.
"Foreign banks that were processing these payments for customers in Iran, Sudan and Libya and other rogue nations violated the law and in so doing undermined international security," Vance said. "And they did so systematically, intentionally and often part of their daily business."
Vance signaled that such prosecutions will continue, and he placed special emphasis on the enforcement of economic sanctions against Iran. He also defended his office's role in large, international cases.
"Now critics have asked why our office, a local prosecutor's office, gets involved in investigations like this that reach all across the world. I think the better question is: how could we not?" Vance said. "I believe we have no choice and every obligation to act. Manhattan is a center of global finance. And the Manhattan district attorney's office has a long history of policing the world's markets and financial institutions." Vance also focused on the sharp rise in identity theft, which just a few years ago was a white-collar crime dominated by criminals with ties to Russia and eastern Europe, he said. Because identity theft is so profitable, street gangs have recently become involved, he said.
Vance described how criminals recruit insiders from banks and other businesses to steal personal information from their customers and clients. That information is used to create fraudulent credit cards and fake IDs, which are then used to purchase goods. Those goods are then sold online.
"This is the so-called gray market for Internet goods, and it is a multi-billion dollar market, much of it based on goods sold from identity theft and other criminal schemes," Vance said.