Press release | March 12, 2018

UK banking authority urged to act over $4.5 billion ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ corruption scandal

Global Witness and leading anti-corruption MP Margaret Hodge have today called on the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority to take action over the role of RBS and Standard Chartered in handling more than US$2 billion of embezzled funds in a major international corruption scandal. The call comes as Global Witness publishes a new analysis of the role of the bankers, auditors and lawyers in enabling Malaysia’s 1MDB corruption scandal that is likely to have robbed the Malaysian people of an estimated US$4.5 billion.

According to the US Department of Justice the billions embezzled from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a government owned-company, by a variety of people were spent on luxury properties, high-end art and lavish lifestyles, as well as payments to the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Most famously, money taken from 1MDB allegedly funded the Leonardo DiCaprio film the Wolf of Wall Street.

Global Witness and Margaret Hodge have written to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) calling for it to investigate the role of two UK-based banks, RBS and Standard Chartered, for their oversight of their Swiss and Singapore branches’ money laundering controls. Regulators in Singapore and Switzerland have fined the two banks’ foreign branches a total of $12 million for breaches of anti-money laundering regulations in relation to the scandal. Those investigations were completed over a year ago, with Swiss regulators passing their findings to the FCA at that time. However, there has been no sign of any action from the UK authorities.

In response to Global Witness’ findings, prominent Labour MP Margaret Hodge said: “It is time for the FCA to take firm action to hold banks that handle dirty money to account. The FCA must also explain its apparent inaction over this case, when other countries completed their investigations over a year ago.”

The role of the two banks feature in Global Witness’ new analysis of how a range of banks, lawyers and auditors either turned a blind eye, signed off on suspicious transactions or were simply not obliged by the rules to question origin of funding.

“Our analysis shows that the international anti-money laundering system is not working,”  said Global Witness Senior Campaigner Murray Worthy. “The 1MDB scandal would simply not have been possible if the system worked; the financial professionals involved would have spotted this dirty cash and prevented the money from being ever being taken.”

The report concludes that for the banks involved in the 1MDB scandal, this was not a problem of inadequate regulations but a failure of bankers to follow those rules. The banks were either simply not conducting the checks that they were required to do, or they were willing to ignore the risks they saw.

Murray Worthy continued: “The UK should not allow banks based here to handle the proceeds of crime or corruption, wherever they operate in the world. The people of Malaysia are now facing a bill greater than the country’s annual healthcare budget as a result of this scandal – and these banks enabled this scandal to happen.”



Notes to editor:

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