New Zealand banks named in FinCEN leak defend the process

BNZ was named among a tangle involved in FinCEN leak.
BNZ was named among a tangle involved in FinCEN leak. Photo credit: File Image

The BNZ bank has reviewed the transactions it sent, that were flagged as suspicious and identified through leaked documents, and says it has no concerns over how they were handled.

Three New Zealand banks were named among the tangle of banks worldwide that are being accused of being complicit in money laundering, via documents called the FinCEN files.

The files are more than 2500 documents, most of which were files that banks sent to the US authorities between 2000 and 2017.

Banks use them to report suspicious behaviour but they are not proof of wrongdoing or crime.

They were leaked to Buzzfeed News and shared with the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists.

The documents show BNZ sent just more than $US78,000 ($NZ117,000), over four transactions, to E Sun Bank in Taiwan. The transactions were flagged as suspicious by a US-based intermediary bank.

A BNZ spokesperson said it had re-looked at the payments, which were made in 2011 and 2013, and had not identified any concerns in relation to processes or how they were managed at the time.

"As a highly regulated bank, we are required to be extremely vigilant on all matters relating to money laundering, sanctions, and terrorist financing. We constantly review and strengthen our controls to manage a continuously changing regulatory and operating environment.

"It's worth noting that anti-money laundering regulations only allow financial institutions to tell certain organisations and entities about Suspicious Activity Reports in order to reduce the risk that this information might be used to circumvent anti-money laundering processes and procedures. These normally include police, the organisation's lawyers, and their regulator or supervisor. These rules apply in New Zealand and in other countries around the world."

The data also showed ASB received $US1.54 million (NZ$2.83 million) in five suspicious transactions from the China Merchants Bank in 2013 and $US196,500 ($NZ295,863) from the ANZ Bank over two transactions in 2016.

ASB chief risk officer Carl Ferguson said the bank had modern and effective systems in place to monitor and report activity which was potentially illegal and was committed to playing its part to combat this activity and reduce money-laundering here and overseas.

"We take our reporting obligations very seriously. If we consider a customer's transactions or behaviour to be suspicious we report this to the police, and in some instances, we will exit customers where it is clear their transaction behaviour is inappropriate or in breach of our obligations."

ANZ has yet to respond to RNZ's questions.