A worldwide pandemic has not slowed regulators in finding and punishing violations of existing anti-money laundering (AML) laws, according to a new study by compliance risk and investigations vendor Kroll.
The firm’s Global Enforcement Review 2021 found that while regulators issued the same number of AML enforcement actions (45) in 2020 as they did in 2019, the value of those actions skyrocketed.
In 2020, regulators handed out $2.2 billion in AML fines, up from $444 million in 2019. The first six months of 2021 have indicated a similar pace, with $994 million in fines assessed over 17 actions.
“The figures show that investigations were not paused for COVID-19,” said Claire Simm, managing director, financial services compliance and regulation at Kroll, in a statement. “While the number of fines remained constant, the value of fines surged as regulators imposed tougher penalties, continuing to send the message that despite any obstacles, enforcement remains a top priority for non-compliant behavior.”
Some of the larger AML fines so far in 2021 include $390 million against Capital One for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and $100 million against cryptocurrency platform BitMEX in a settlement with two U.S. regulators.
In 2020, Australia imposed the greatest proportion of the global total of AML fines issued (41 percent), followed by Sweden and Hong Kong. Last year, an Australian regulator announced a nearly $1 billion fine against Westpac related to improper filings and the facilitation of child exploitation in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
While AML fine totals are surging, they still have not reached the record level of 2018, when $3.3 billion worth of penalties were issued over 52 enforcement actions, according to Kroll.
The report states the most frequent problem areas from 2016-21 include AML management (124 cases), suspicious activity monitoring (98), customer due diligence (94), and compliance monitoring and oversight (57).
“Despite the increasing value of fines and consistent enforcement from regulators worldwide, we still see the same key AML failings being sanctioned,” Simm said.
Kroll also found the value of fines issued for violations of anti-bribery laws shot up in 2020 ($2.4 billion) compared to 2019 ($48 million). Through the first six months of 2021, the total is $130 million.
Sanctions fines were down significantly in 2020 ($27 million) compared to 2019 ($3.2 billion). In 2021, the total is $9.1 million.