One of Britain’s oldest private banking firms and once banker to the Queen, Coutts & Co., has agreed to pay a £8.75 (US$13.8) million fine in connection with charges of money laundering –the first of its kind.
The UK’s Financial Services Authority prosecuted Coutts for flouting laws on major deposits by high-profile government officials. These officials, also designated as Politically Exposed Persons, or PEPS, are considered at high-risk of corruption because of their official positions.
“Coutt’s failings were significant, widespread and unacceptable,” said Tracey McDermott, the authority’s acting director of enforcement and financial crime.
In the two cases, Coutts failed to identify criminal charges against deposits from PEPS. In five others, the bank approved deposits despite receiving “adverse intelligence” about the clients or sources of their money.
Coutt’s managed to shave a third off the penalty by settling the case at an early stage. The company maintained that it had now improved its controls to enhance oversight of deposits.
Sweep to Coutts bank fined £8.7m FSA
Now, The Age, an Australian newspaper, reports why: Australian authorities tie the nephew to a money laundering and heroin ring that was exporting drugs to Australia, and wanted to avoid a diplomatic crisis. Had the nephew, Hun To, gotten the visa, he would likely have been arrested once he reached Australian soil.
The Age reports that Australian and Cambodian crime syndicates have increasingly been working together. Law enforcement authorities estimate that some $1 billion in illicit drugs is entering Australia each year, through criminal organizations with ties to high-level police and government officials in Asia.
Hun To, whose wife and children live in Melbourne, denied the allegations and threatened to sue the newspaper for defamation.
Sweep to Drugs: our man in Cambodia
Two French judges are seeking an international arrest warrant on charges of money laundering for Teodorin Obiang, the high-living son of the president Equatorial Guinea, a poverty-stricken and yet oil-rich West African nation.
Obiang, whose official government salary as agriculture minister runs under $100,000, has squandered a fortune on custom jets, a fleet of super-luxe cars like the Bugati Veyron and Mercedes Maybach, a $35 million mansion in Malibu and a $200 million mansion on Paris’ chic Avenue Foch. Just last year, he had commissioned a company to build him a yacht valued at $380 million.
In February, French police raided Obiang’s mansion in Paris, confiscating millions of dollars in fine art works and vintage wines. They hauled off a trailer full of luxury automobiles.
The judges, Roger Le Loire and Rene Grouman, have been investigating Obiang since 2010 on suspicion that embezzled funds belonging to the people of Equatorial Guinea were used to finance his lavish purchases and lifestyle.
The United States Justice Department, as well, has moved to seize some $71 million in Obiang’s assets. Obiang is opposing the seizure, claiming to a U.S. court that the charges amounted to “character assassination” against him and Equatorial Guinea.