Seeking to avert confrontation with Congress over financial privacy and the Bank Secrecy Act, U.S. officials plan to let a Republican-controlled House panel review an unspecified number of suspicious activity reports that banks filed on President Joe Biden’s relatives.
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight Committee, said Tuesday that Treasury had agreed to show his panel the SARs “in camera,” or out of view of the press and public, 10 months after he began pushing for the reports as part of a politically contentious investigation into alleged influence peddling by the president’s son, Hunter, and younger brother, James.
The agreement stops short of providing the committee hardcopies of reports that could, if released, publicly expose the names, values, dates, stated purposes and other details associated with payments that banks privately flagged to law enforcement as suspicious pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act, the 1972 law that underpins U.S. regulations against illicit finance.
“SARs themselves are supposed to be kept confidential, but Congress has oversight responsibility of the executive branch,” said Annemarie McAvoy, a former federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York. “It is not really up to Treasury to tell Congress, ‘You can’t.’ ”
Comer said he postponed an interview his committee had scheduled for Tuesday morning with Treasury Assistant Secretary Jonathan Davidson to question his delay on providing the reports.
Davidson first suggested the possibility of viewing the SARs in camera in a written response to Comer in September 2022.
Banks and other financial institutions not only file SARs to flag payments that on their face appear illegal, but also file them to draw attention to transactions that do not align with normal commercial practices or typify a customer’s usual financial patterns.
“It does not mean that something wrong took place, it may just be out of the ordinary,” said McAvoy, now a professor at Columbia University in New York, where she holds classes on money laundering, terrorist financing and other financial crimes. “The problem today is that everything winds up in the press.”
Investigators working for the committee may use information from the SARs they review in camera to subpoena banks for additional records on the underlying transactions.
“Then it’s not coming from a SAR,” McAvoy said.
Comer’s push for financial records has not stopped at SARs.
He used the committee’s subpoena power on Feb. 27 to demand 14 years of transactional records from Bank of America on three individuals, including one U.S. citizen, John Walker, a business associate of Hunter Biden.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the committee’s ranking member, revealed in a letter to Comer dated March 12 and published Monday that Bank of America handed over “thousands of pages” of transactional data to the panel in response to the “wildly overbroad subpoena.”
The records in question, according to Raskin, included private details showing “how much [Walker] pays for his child’s dance lessons, when he has been to the hospital, [and] how many parking tickets he has paid.”
Spokespersons for the Treasury Department and the House Oversight Committee did not respond to inquiries by press time.
Bank of America declined to comment.
Comer said in a televised interview Tuesday that his investigation concerns payments that a Chinese energy company sent six years ago to Walker, and Walker’s alleged, subsequent payments to three members of the Biden family.
Comer said he has yet to find evidence that the president benefited from or knew of the transactions.
When questions about the deal surfaced during the presidential campaign in 2020, a spokesman for Biden denied that the former vice president had any involvement with his family’s commercial activity or with any overseas companies.
His publicly released tax returns also showed no such income.
Contact Fred Williams at email@example.com
|Topics :||Anti-money laundering|
|Document Date:||March 14, 2023|