Dutch Prosecutors Assess Record Money-Laundering Penalty Against ING

By Koos Couvée

Dutch lender ING has agreed to pay authorities in the Netherlands a record €775 million after admitting to a litany of compliance violations that allowed criminals to launder hundreds of millions of euros, the country’s public prosecution service disclosed Tuesday.

Prosecutors claimed in a 24-page statement that the Amsterdam-based bank failed to fund and staff its anti-money laundering program properly for several years, resulting in inadequate due-diligence, transaction-monitoring and suspicious-activity-reporting practices that enabled dozens of clients to move vast sums of illicit money “virtually undisturbed” from 2010 to 2016.

ING not only violated domestic AML regulations, according to prosecutors, but also committed the more serious offense of “culpable money laundering” by failing to act after learning that certain cash flows through its accounts probably derived from criminal activity.

Regulators warned ING of its shortcomings on “multiple occasions” but the bank failed to address them.

“ING NL knew it was making insufficient efforts to meet its legal obligations to combat money laundering by its clients and nevertheless neglected to make further efforts,” prosecutors claimed. “ING NL should have reasonably suspected that some of the cash flows through its clients’ bank accounts originated from some form of crime.”

The €775 million payment, which includes €675 million to resolve the violations and a €100 million disgorgement of “unlawfully obtained gains” from cutting corners on its AML program from 2010 to 2016, represents the largest penalty in Dutch corporate history.

“It’s very unusual that the prosecution service did not stop at criminal investigations into money laundering … but actually went on to look at [related] financial flows through a bank,” Maud Bokkerink, former head of AML and sanctions examinations at the Dutch Central Bank, told ACAMS “The fact that they found the bank guilty of culpable money laundering is also far-reaching … as is the U.S-style fine.”

The investigation that led to the penalty disclosed Tuesday began in 2016, when Dutch officials learned that several persons and legal entities already under investigation on suspicion of money laundering and corruption held accounts at ING.

VimpelCom, a domestic telecommunications company now known as VEON, allegedly funneled $55 million in bribes from an ING account held by a subsidiary, Watertrail, to a firm in Gibraltar beneficially owned by Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of Uzbekistan’s then-President Islam Karimov, to secure business.

The illegal transfers occurred in 2007 and 2011 but ING waited until 2015 to report them to the FIU, and only did so “after a journalist asked specific questions about the transactions.”

VimpelCom agreed in February 2016 to pay $795 million to U.S. and Dutch authorities to settle bribery charges.

Dutch prosecutors claimed in the statement of facts Tuesday that ING failed to report the payments to Karimov’s company to the Dutch Financial Intelligence Unit, or FIU, in a timely fashion, and did not seek to determine their true beneficiary.

ING separately opened corporate accounts for what was ostensibly a lingerie company but was in fact a vehicle for large-scale money laundering by an organized crime network.

The network succeeded in laundering roughly €150 million through ING because compliance officers did not properly vet their corporate client and gauge the risks it presented.

“Here, too, the bank did not conduct sufficient client due diligence and the company was classified in the wrong segment,” prosecutors said. “The monitoring system did generate alerts regarding unusual monetary flows, but these were wrongfully and almost without further investigation set aside by the bank as ‘not unusual.’”

Only in August 2013, three years after the first internal alert linked to the client was raised, did ING report a transaction to the FIU. The bank waited another 16 months to terminate the relationship.

Prosecutors attributed a large proportion of ING’s compliance violations to the bank’s lack of compliance staff, and a related decision to cap transactional alerts through a method known as “topping.”

“For certain categories … after a predetermined maximum number of alerts … the system stopped monitoring these categories of money laundering signals,” prosecutors wrote. “The maximum number of alerts was limited to only three per day for several relevant categories of money laundering signals.”

ING also focused on accounts rather than customers when monitoring for suspicious activity, allowing clients with multiple accounts to evade ongoing monitoring.

From 2010 to 2016, the bank neither tested nor updated its transaction-monitoring system despite multiple warnings by Dutch regulators, according to the statement of facts.

“Compliance was often found to be less important than the business,” prosecutors wrote. “The focus of ING was mainly on the profitability of the organization and achieving its commercial objectives.”

ING said in a statement that it “sincerely regrets” the violations and has taken remedial action against current and former senior employees responsible for AML compliance.

Topics : Anti-money laundering , Counterterrorist Financing
Source: Netherlands
Document Date: September 4, 2018