WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration has promised bankers it will try to lighten their compliance burden as it reviews laws against money laundering with an eye toward public-private partnerships.

Ronald K. Noble, assistant Treasury secretary for enforcement, made the pledge at a two-day American Bankers Association seminar that began Monday.

Specifically, Mr. Noble said that in the future, banks will not have to file as many currency transaction reports. Currently, financial institutions annually file nine million of the reports, which advise when customer transactions involve more than $10,000 in cash.

Mr. Noble said Treasury plans to let financial institutions develop "white lists" of customers for which they would not have to file the reports - for example, pharmacies that routinely deposit a lot of cash.

In addition, he said that a 20-member task force of government and industry officials would review money-laundering laws. The members will be named next month, he said.

Threshold Won't Change

Although some bankers have called for the $10,000 reporting threshold to be raised, Mr. Noble said that would not happen.

A senior Justice Department official explained that the administration will take a three-prolonged approach to fighting money laundering - an approach that will, among other things, establish "new forms of cooperation" between bankers and law enforcement officials.

Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann, also speaking at the seminar, told the nearly 200 bankers and lawyers that the new "money laundering strategy will be interagency, international, and cooperative with the private sector." He and Mr. Noble both said the administration would take into account banks' compliance costs.

Criminals' Costs Rising

Bankers often complain that they file many currency transaction reports and report many suspicious transactions then the information goes unused. But Mr. Heymann told them their help has been "central" in changing the way criminals launder money.

As a result, it now costs criminals more to launder money. In the 1980s "the cost of money laundering was less than 1% of the amount laundered," Mr. Heymann said. Now, the Drug Enforcement Agency estimates that drug cartels spend "17% or more" of their proceeds to launder money, he said.

Robert W. Becker Jr., senior vice president of operations at $550 million-asset Jefferson Bank in Downingtown, Pa., attended the seminar and acknowledged that the government is hard-pressed to cut banks' compliance costs. "I don't know how they can," he said. "It is very important, I think, to monitor these types of transactions."

He said Jefferson Bank files about 50 reports on suspicious transactions annually, and files about 3,900 currency transaction reports each year.

To reduce costs, the government could increase the reporting threshold to $25,000 from $10,000 for cash transactions, but "then I don't know if we'd be really catching all of the criminals out there."

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