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U.S. Bank Pleads Guilty in Case Involving Colombian National

Colombian operated foreign currency exchange firm in Bogota

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- A U.S. bank has pleaded guilty to failing to file a "Suspicious Activity Report" in a case involving a Colombian national who had set up an independent foreign currency exchange business in Colombia's capital city of Bogota.

In an October 1 statement, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the New York-based Delta National Bank and Trust Company pled guilty in a U.S. District Court in Baltimore to one count of failing to file the report. As part of its plea agreement with the government, Delta National will forfeit $950,000 to the United States.

ICE, the primary investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Delta National opened accounts in December 1998 for the Colombian national, whom the agency did not identify, at the bank's Miami branch office. Since the mid-1990s, this customer had operated the foreign currency exchange business. ICE said that, typically, the purpose of foreign currency exchange businesses is to act as a broker between customers who have U.S. dollars and wish to purchase Colombian pesos, and vice versa.

ICE said such businesses in Colombia have been identified by Delta Bank's principal regulator, the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and other U.S. federal agencies, as a "high risk" for laundering the proceeds of illicit narcotics trafficking and other criminal activity.

ICE said the Colombian helped fellow countrymen with transactions at Delta National that were conducted as part of the foreign currency exchange business. ICE said Delta National was aware of this assistance but failed to file a report of the transactions. The total amount involved in the foreign currency exchange transactions that required reporting was between $5 million and $10 million, said ICE.

In simple terms, money laundering consists of conduct or acts designed in whole or in part to conceal or disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of money to avoid a transaction-reporting requirements under state or federal law. Laundering is used to disguise the fact that the money was acquired by illegal means.

One of the U.S. Department of Treasury's three entities involved in combating money laundering -- the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) -- said that "dirty money" can take many routes, with the ultimate goal being to disguise its source. The money can move through banks, check cashers, money transmitters, businesses, casinos, and even be sent overseas to be transformed into clean, laundered money.

The tools of the money launderer can range from complicated financial transactions, carried out through webs of wire transfers and networks of shell companies, to old-fashioned currency smuggling, FinCEN said.

FinCen said in its Strategic Plan for 2003-2008 that one of its major goals is to support efforts to eliminate safe havens for money laundering and terrorist financing worldwide. FinCEN said its mission will be accomplished by "networking governments, people, and information, both domestically and internationally."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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