The Clinton administration will propose rules to require casinos, brokerage firms and even storefront check cashiers to report suspicious money transactions to the federal government, just as banks are required to do, federal officials said yesterday.
The announcement was part of a new get-tough policy on money laundering unveiled yesterday by Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers and Attorney General Janet Reno. In addition to new regulation, the policy calls for new legislation to bolster existing money-laundering laws by expanding the list of foreign crimes U.S. officials could cite in bringing money-laundering charges.
The administration's new push on money laundering comes amid criticism from members of Congress this week that the White House has been lax on money laundering and other financial crime, and in the wake of publicity surrounding a yearlong federal probe into whether at least $7.5 billion that passed through the Bank of New York and other U.S. financial institutions was linked to Russia capital flight or organized crime.
Money laundering refers to the complex process of transferring illegally obtained funds among financial institutions to hide the money's origin and ownership.
Congress directed the White House to come up with a new money-laundering policy last year.
The new policy was supposed to have been presented to Congress by Feb. 1, and some lawmakers have questioned the timing of the White House announcement. Treasury officials defended the timing, however, saying that the Bank of New York probe had nothing to do with when they made the announcement and that the administration preferred to be late in delivering it rather than rush out with an incomplete plan.
The administration also will propose legislation that would add violent crime, fraud against a foreign government, and any misuse of foreign aid to the list of foreign crimes that U.S. officials can cite to bring money-laundering charges. Under current law, the list of foreign crimes that can lead to U.S. money-laundering charges includes only drug dealing, murder, kidnapping and some fraud.
A similar provision was included in a broader money-laundering bill advanced earlier this week by House Banking Chairman Jim Leach (R-Iowa).
About $300 billion in laundered money is estimated to pass through U.S. banks each year, and many banks and other financial institutions make millions of dollars in fees processing that money. But Summers disagreed with any suggestion that a successful crackdown on money laundering could seriously disrupt the U.S. economy.
"With everything happening in our economy, there are plenty of opportunities for financial institutions to make money doing honest business," he said.
Skeptics about the government's resolve remain, however. "The issue of money laundering has been staring us in the face for a long time and unfortunately everyone's been sitting on their hands," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who plans to introduce a bill in the Senate. "It's taken the explosion at the Bank of New York to shake things up and my worry is that we won't really do anything after this."
Dan Michaelis of the Securities Industry Association said brokerage firms want to see details of the proposed regulations on brokers before commenting. But he said they will want to make sure that any new rules don't impinge on privacy or inhibit legitimate business transactions.
Summers also said he will work with the other major industrial countries to foster international cooperation in investigating money laundering and that U.S. banking regulators also will be looking for ways to strengthen current regulations.
CAPTION: Attorney General Janet Reno, Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) unveil proposed rules on money laundering.