NEW YORK – President Obama's attorney-general nominee, Loretta Lynch, admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee that her investigators in the money-laundering probe of HSBC were aware of evidence compiled by whistleblower John Cruz but she chose, nevertheless, not to bring criminal charges.
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Lynch provided written answers to questions submitted by committee chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, in a document posted on the panel's website dated Feb. 18.
As WND reported, Lynch's confirmation vote in the Senate initially was postponed after Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened the investigation of Lynch's role in the HSBC deferred prosecution after his staff quizzed Cruz, a former HSBC employee-turned-whistleblower whose trove of original evidence of money laundering was reported first by WND.
Cruz charged HSBC was engaged in a willful, criminal scheme to launder money for Mexican drug cartels and Middle East terrorists.
In response to Grassley, Lynch, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, acknowledged Department of Justice "investigators did speak with and receive documents and information from Mr. Cruz."
"Based on the in formation he provided, we took appropriate additional investigative steps, including requiring additional information from HSBC," she replied to the senator.
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"Investigators carefully considered the information he provided as we considered whether there was sufficient admissible evidence to prosecute violations at HSBC and whether any such prosecution otherwise would have been consistent with the principles of federal prosecution contained in the United States Attorney’s Manual," said Lynch.
"Ultimately, HSBC entered into a DPA that required remarkable reforms based on Bank Secrecy Act and sanctions violations, and that explicitly provides no protection from prosecution for conduct outside of the Statement of Facts.
In the deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA, HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion in fines and make structural changes as a condition of not pressing criminal charges.
Lynch repeatedly emphasized, however, the DOJ settlement with HSBC was limited to criminal violations of the Bank Secrecy Act.
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“Note that we did not charge HSBC with money laundering,” Lynch told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Rather, HSBC’s failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program violated the Bank Secrecy Act by creating a corporate environment that failed to stop others from laundering money through HSBC.”
Grassley noted Cruz spoke with IRS criminal investigators in Colorado in early 2012 and provided approximately 1,000 pages of documents and 30 hours of audio recordings to the IRS and the Securities and Exchange Commission in whistleblower submissions in July 2012.
Grassley also pointed out that Cruz provided the material to the Department of Justice in September 2012, more than two months before Lynch's office filed the deferred prosecution agreement Dec. 11, 2012.
Grassley asserted the Cruz documents “suggest the extent of HSBC’s criminal conduct may not have been fully described in the Statement of Facts associated with the [deferred prosecution agreement] reached with the government."
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When initially asked by Grassley if HSBC provided any of the Cruz documents to the Department of Justice, Lynch answered: “I understand that investigators spoke with and received documents from Mr. Cruz, and after speaking with Mr. Cruz, required information from HSBC; I am not aware at this time whether HSBC then supplied documents identical to those that Mr. Cruz had supplied.”
Grassley then asked, if HSBC did provide the Cruz documents to the DOJ, why was the criminal money-laundering scheme Cruz exposed not included in the HSBC Statement of Facts or used as the basis for criminal prosecutions.
“Investigators considered the information and documents provided by Mr. Cruz, and took appropriate additional investigative steps,” Lynch responded. “I should reiterate, however, that the DPA reached with HSBC in 2012 addressed only the charges filed in the criminal information, which are limited to violations of the Bank Secrecy Act for failure to maintain an adequate anti-money laundering program and sanctions violations.”
Lynch emphasized there was nothing in the DPA that would prevent subsequent prosecution of HSBC employees for criminal money-laundering.
WND exposed HSBC money laundering
Breaking the story on Feb. 1, 2012, WND reported Cruz delivered to WND approximately 1,000 pages of customer account records he pulled from the HSBC computer system before he was fired by senior management, who had no interest in investigating his claim to have discovered illegal money-laundering activity at the bank.
Cruz began working at HSBC Jan. 14, 2008, and was terminated for “poor job performance” Feb. 17, 2010.
In his position as an account relationship manager, Cruz worked in the HSBC southern New York region, which accounts for about half of HSBC’s North American revenue. He was assigned to work with several branch managers to identify accounts where HSBC might introduce additional banking services.
“The Obama administration is continuing to cover up its role in the HSBC money laundering scandal,” Cruz told WND in a telephone interview Thursday.
“The IRS has blocked every legal effort I have made to be credited as a whistleblower in the HSBC billion-dollar settlement,” Cruz said. “It is impossible that the Obama administration did not know HSBC was laundering drug money for the Mexican cartels, because the documentation I had showed the laundered money passed through the federal wire-transfer services.”
HSBC a 'criminal enterprise'
As WND reported in May 2012, Cruz charged that HSBC was a “criminal organization” involved in a “culture of crime.”
“Money comes in daily, thousands of dollars, always in even amounts,” he said. “You look at a statement and it says ‘transfer,’ but where did it go? There’s no account number or tracking number that documents where the transaction went.”
Cruz contended that HSBC was running what amounted to a “shell game.”
“So many of these businesses are conducted out of a person’s home,” he said. “I would walk into these homes. There’s a couch, there’s a chair, a desk, but the house is empty – a couple of Mercedes sitting out front – but where is the business? It’s only online transactions of money-in and money-out.”
To implement the money-laundering scheme, Cruz charged the 1,000 pages of customer account records suggest HSBC relies on identity theft to capture legitimate Social Security numbers to create bogus retail and commercial bank accounts. Through the accounts, HSBC employees systematically deposited and withdrew hundreds of millions of dollars on a daily basis, apparently without the knowledge of the identity theft victims.
“When an individual finds out they got a loan they never knew about, 5 percent of that loan went to the accounting firm that made up the phony tax returns and the other 95 percent of that loan went to the manager,” he charged.
“One manager was involved in the transaction, another manager was involved in notarizing the transaction, and senior management was involved where they signed off permission to give the loans even when the loans get rejected by underwriting.”
On July 17, 2012, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, released a majority and minority 330-page staff report titled “U.S. Vulnerabilities to Money Laundering, Drugs, and Terrorist Financing: HSBC Case History.” It documented HSBC’s role in illegally laundering drug money for Mexican cartels Middle Eastern terrorists.
“In an age of international terrorism, drug violence in our streets and on our borders, and organized crime, stopping illicit money flows that support those atrocities is a national security imperative,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, upon the release of the report.
“HSBC used its U.S. bank as a gateway into the U.S. financial system for some HSBC affiliates around the world to provide U.S. dollar services to clients while playing fast and loose with U.S. banking rules,” Levin continued. “Due to poor AML [Anti-Money Laundering] controls, HBUS exposed the United States to Mexican drug money, suspicious travelers cheques, bearer share corporations, and rogue jurisdictions. The bank’s federal bank regulator, the OCC, tolerated HSBC’s weak AML system for years. If an international bank won’t police its own affiliates to stop illicit money, the regulatory agencies should consider whether to revoke the charter of the U.S. bank being used to aid and abet that illicit money.”
Vitter delays Lynch nomination
On Feb. 11, WND reported Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, delayed the Lynch nomination by announcing he had decided to investigate Lynch’s decision not to prosecute HSBC.
Vitter’s Washington staff quizzed Cruz in an hour-long teleconference that WND attended during which Vitter’s staff questioned Cruz over his allegations and his evidence. Vitter’s staff left the meeting asking, “How can we allow Loretta Lynch to be the nation’s top federal law enforcement officer when the HSBC money-laundering scandal raises questions about a cover-up scandal that may be continuing even today?”
On Wednesday, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., charged that the opposition of Senate Republicans to the Lynch nomination is rooted in racism.
Cleaver told Bloomberg Politics that failure to confirm Lynch would be further evidence race relations in the United States have deteriorated as Senate Republicans square off against the first black president, rejecting his first-ever nomination of a black woman to be attorney general.
“It would be yet another sign that the chasm we thought was narrowing is in fact just as it was before we entered into this new millennium as it relates to issues of race,” Cleaver said. “For many minorities, Latinos and African-Americans, it would be just another contemporary sign that we have not moved as far as we had hoped.”
A Rasmussen poll released this week showed only 33 percent of likely U.S. voters believe the Senate should confirm Lynch to replace Eric Holder.
The survey found that 40 percent remain undecided, comprising a majority when added to the 27 percent of likely voters who oppose Lynch’s confirmation.
A Senate vote on the Lynch nomination is not expected now until mid-April.
WND reported Monday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office confirmed the Senate has once again postponed the vote on Lynch’s nomination.
McConnell, R-Ky., said in a CNN interview Sunday he won’t hold a confirmation vote for Lynch before the Senate completes its work on a human-trafficking bill.
The majority leader’s further delay the Lynch confirmation vote is widely viewed by Washington insiders as a Republican rebuke to President Obama’s controversial executive actions, including de facto amnesty for up to 5 million illegal aliens. Also, the Obama administration has refused to acknowledge a legitimate role for Senate consideration of any agreement Secretary of State John Kerry may conclude with Iran in the current round of negotiations in Geneva over Tehran’s nuclear program.
On Tuesday, NorthJersey.com reported Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., may be the key to Lynch’s nomination as attorney general.
The New Jersey newspaper reported an ethics expert maintained it would not be a conflict of interest for Menendez to cast the deciding vote, even as the senator expects the Department of Justice to hand down an indictment for alleged corruption.