On August 28, 2019, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced the start of its Global Investigations Division (GID), which will have responsibility to implement targeted investigation strategies based on FinCEN’s unique authorities under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to combat illicit finance threats and related crimes, both domestically and internationally.[
FinCEN Director Kenneth A. Blanco announced that Matthew Stiglitz, a former Principal Deputy Chief in the United States Department of Justice’s Criminal Division with 24 years as a state and Federal prosecutor, will head GID.
According to the press release, GID will leverage FinCEN’s BSA authorities, including Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act, to investigate and target terrorist finance and money laundering threats. GID will work more closely with foreign counterparts to coordinate actions against such threats when appropriate.
Before the creation of GID, the former Office of Special Measures (OSM), which was previously a part of FinCEN’s Enforcement Division, provided the investigative resources. In recent years FinCEN’s strategic use of its Section 311 authority as well as its other information collection authorities, such as the geographic targeting order and foreign financial agency regulation authorities, have significantly grown in recent years. Now FinCEN will have one division that concentrates on achieving these goals.
GID will use FinCEN’s authorities to detect and deter a broad range of potential threats to the United States national security and financial system, including ones that are connected to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, rogue state actors, transnational organized crime, international narcotics trafficking, and terrorism.
Just at the end of August, FinCEN and OFAC have focused on Dominican Republic narcotics kingpins and Chinese importers of fentanyl. In addition, FinCEN has issued an advisory to financial institutions on illicit financial schemes and methods related to the trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
FinCEN is focused on stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially as North Korea and Iran.
Until now, FinCEN has utilized its power to designate foreign financial institutions as being “of primary money laundering concern” judiciously. However, when banks and financial institutions in the European Union countries of Latvia, Cyprus, and Andorra, have been involved in illicit finance threat activities, FinCEN has investigated and subjected them to Sec. 311 while the EU has not had the capacity to act.
The increase of FinCEN international authority comes at a time when the OECD has downgraded the U.S. on exchange of information, transparency of entity, and regulation of gatekeepers. The downgrades have diminished the capacity of the U.S. Department of Justice and Treasury to respond to foreign requests. In addition, the increased capacity of FinCEN’s international authority occurs at a time of disengagement by the United States government with the United Nations, the G7 and G20. However, since the press release states GID “will work more closely with foreign counterparts to coordinate actions against such threats when appropriate,” foreign law enforcement authorities and international organizations will certainly welcome such an outreach, although some may wonder and test the condition of “when appropriate”.