Sunday, October 14, 2012


Last week (11 October 2012) the US Treasury Department designated the organised crime group Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13, as a Transnational Criminal Organisation (TCO), which means that United States persons or entities cannot conduct any financial transactions with its members or associates, and all MS-13 assets in the United States are blocked.

Whilst most bank officers doubt that they would encounter funds of a street gang in their daily duties, this organisation engages in the following activities:

(1) Drug Trafficking
(2) Kidnapping
(3) Human Smuggling
(4) Sex Trafficking
(5) Murder for Hire, and Murder
(6) Assassination
(7) Racketeering
(9) Extortion
(10)Immigration Offences
(11) Assisting designated terrorist organisations, such as Al-Qaeda

The leadership of MS-13, located in the Republic of El Salvador, is the ultimate recipient of criminal profits from its US chapters. The payments may be wired directly to it there, or via branches in Honduras, Guatemala or Mexico.

Compliance officers should brief bank front line staff about monitoring repeated or substantial wire transfers, or remittances, to El Salvador primarily, but also, to a lesser degree, to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, where one or more of the following "Red Flags," or indicia of suspicious activity, is present:

(A) No legitimate business reason can be seen for the transfer(s).
(B) Personal remittances are excessive, given the stated occupation of the sender, and/or of the recipient.
(C) Repeated funds transfers to El Salvador. (exclude known businesses with a long track record)
(D) Funds transfers initiated during especially busy banking hours.
(E) The transferor(s) appear to be blue collar workers, but the amounts sought to be transferred are substantial.
(F) The presence of excessive tatoos on the clients ( MS-13 members frequently have numerous tatoos, especially on their faces and arms.
(G) The regular use of different remitters sending to the same recipient(s).
(H) Small denomination bills for a large wire transfer (no fifties and hundreds).

You do not need to have your bank involved in a law enforcement investigation, because law enforcement agencies targeting that TCO find that you are wiring funds to its leadership. Are you located in California, Texas, Nevada, New Jersey Georgia, Virginia, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina or Tennessee ? Those states have a major MS-13 presence.

Do you happen to have any Salvadorians on staff ? They could assist you in identifying an Salvadorian nationals in your client base. Watch out for businesses that could be fronts for criminal activity.

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