Secret U.S. government documents reveal that JPMorgan Chase, HSBC and other big banks have defied money laundering crackdowns by moving staggering sums of illicit cash for shadowy characters and criminal networks that have spread chaos and undermined democracy around the world.
The records show that five global banks — JPMorgan, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon — kept profiting from powerful and dangerous players even after U.S. authorities fined these financial institutions for earlier failures to stem flows of dirty money.
U.S. agencies responsible for enforcing money laundering laws rarely prosecute megabanks that break the law, and the actions authorities do take barely ripple the flood of plundered money that washes through the international financial system.
In some cases the banks kept moving illicit funds even after U.S. officials warned them they’d face criminal prosecutions if they didn’t stop doing business with mobsters, fraudsters or corrupt regimes.
JPMorgan, the largest bank based in the United States, moved money for people and companies tied to the massive looting of public funds in Malaysia, Venezuela and Ukraine, the leaked documents reveal.
Rukaiyatu Abubakar is one of four current wives of Atiku Abubakar, vice president of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. In 2006, Nigerian anti-corruption investigators accused Atiku Abubakar of fraudulently diverting $125 million of state revenue to private interests. U.S. prosecutors also alleged that a Louisiana congressman tried to bribe Atiku Abubakar to help a Nigerian technology company. Atiku Abubakar has never been tried in court and denies wrongdoing. Rukaiyatu Abubakar has not been accused of wrongdoing.
On March 5, 2012, Rukaiyatu Abubakar’s Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria sent more than $1 million to a company in the United Arab Emirates, Tanjay Real Estate Brokers. (GTCN exists to “manage a blind trust” for Atiku Abubkar’s benefit, according to documents received by the U.S. Senate.) Habib Bank Limited in New York filed a suspicious activity report, citing Atiku Abubakar’s history of alleged corruption, after its Dubai office received the payment. The bank’s Dubai branch explained to the office in New York that the payment was to buy an apartment and that the Dubai branch was “unaware of any existing relationship or affiliation between Tanjay and the Abubakar family.”
Habib Bank reported the transactions because they “crossed multiple high-risk jurisdictions” and because “public sources revealed that there have been numerous investigations of Mr. Abubakar … linking him to corruption allegations.”
SARs reflect the concerns of compliance officers and are not necessarily indicative of criminal conduct or other wrongdoing. The Abubakars didn’t respond to an ICIJ request for comment sent to Atiku Abubakar’s spokesman.