Police investigations have revealed Australian crime gangs launder up to $5 million AUD ($4 million USD) per day through major banks. The accusations, which stem from weaknesses in the banks’ anti-money laundering policies, are eroding public trust in the financial system.
The latest claims involve all of Australia’s “big four” corporate banking behemoths — Commonwealth Bank (CBA), ANZ, National Australia Bank (NAB) and Westpac. Federal and state law enforcement agencies said crime gangs with foreign contacts have used the banks to move money from Australia to countries in Asia and Europe.
In August 2017, CBA (the largest of the four) faced penalties over its lack of attention to suspicious transactions made on its ATM network.
Crime Gangs Have ‘Infiltrated’ Bank Franchises
Not only are “big four” banks laundering millions in drug money, but the Sydney Morning Herald reported crime syndicate members have acquired franchises in mid-tier banks, like Bendigo Bank and Bank of Queensland.
Lax compliance with already-tame banking laws mean banks often turn a blind eye to suspicious accounts and behavior. The Herald described this as “an open secret in the law enforcement and banking communities.”
The banks, according to former head investigator Nick McTaggart, are paying lip service to regulations — while still failing to comply adequately with KYC (know-your-customer) requirements. They do not share information with each other, or access data from law enforcement and federal government authorities.
McTaggart added that electronic efficiencies make it too easy for criminals to create companies, transfer funds, and walk away. Banks can’t — and won’t — keep up with all the activity.
Fake IDs, Supermarket Bags Full of Cash
The Herald report listed a number of examples from recent years.
Australian law forbids banks from advising customers if they’ve been reported to law enforcement — and allows banks to continue ding business with them.
While this is designed to protect investigations while they’re still underway, banks also use them to carry on serving clients despite suspicious activity. One individual continued banking despite being reported to financial crime authority AUSTRAC over 100 times.
Chinese and Vietnamese nationals on visitor visas opened accounts using obviously fake names and addresses, depositing supermarket bags full of cash. Using branches in multiple cities and states, they shuffled thousands of dollars between accounts and transferred funds to Asia.
Their activities continued despite some individuals being arrested and released on bail. Banks have no real obligation to verify identification documents, ask questions or share information with each other.
Public Trust in Government and Banks Falling
The “big four” banks’ PR representatives delivered insipid counter-claims to the accusations. Official statements claimed the corporations are “always vigilant”, investing heavily in ID verification procedures, and “appropriately monitoring” customers’ activities.
However mainstream corporate banking’s years of involvement in risky investments and criminal activity is taking a toll. Public trust in institutions such as government, law enforcement and the financial system is low and continues to fall.
Revelations like today’s will only reinforce that mistrust — and make it more difficult for the public to swallow official warnings about financial alternatives.
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Images via ACIC, Sky News Australia, Woolworths