The leak regards so-called suspicious activity reports that banks send every day to financial intelligence units around the world, as part of their work to counter money laundering or other forms of financial crime. This leak is about SARs to the US authority FinCen.
SARs are generally being made when a bank detects a transaction or a behaviour that could constitute suspected money laundering or other financial crime. In addition to the banks’ SARs reporting, the customer relation can also be terminated. SARs are important indications both to the financial police and to the bank that has sent the report that there is something to be vigilant about and watch more closely, but they are not proof that a crime has taken place. When the financial intelligence unit have received a SAR, they can ask additional questions, share the information with other units within the police or with other investigative authorities, or in other ways follow up the case to determine if the suspicions are justified. The reports also give the authorities a possibility to forfeit assets and bring criminals to justice.
SARs are police intelligence that banks are not allowed to comment on. Furthermore, bank secrecy makes it illegal for a bank to comment on individual possible customers. It is also important to point out that the leak does not necessarily give the full picture, in part because it only provides a portion of the SARs that have been reported to the US authority. In addition, the leak does not show whether the banks mentioned also have sent SARs to the financial intelligence unit in their own countries, and it does not show what further measures banks and authorities have taken.
As long as there is criminality in the world, criminals will regrettably try to get into the financial system. This is a problem for all of society, as criminals try to cheat both banks and other organisations in order to make illegal money available for consumption and investments. SEB has a big responsibility, which we take very seriously. Every day, we detect cases where people and companies try to cheat our systems, and we continuously report to the financial intelligence units in the countries where we do business. Last year, SEB and other Swedish banks reported almost 17,000 SARs to the Swedish financial intelligence unit.
As a bank, we do our utmost to prevent being exploited and to swiftly report suspected money laundering. There are no perfect systems, but we continuously strengthen our abilities to prevent, detect and report, and that work never stops. As money laundering is a global societal problem, it is hard for individual companies or authorities to fight it alone. SEB is working toward increased cooperation between banks, authorities and countries in order to make it easier to share information and stop this kind of crime.