Comptroller of the Currency John D. Hawke Jr. and another top regulator at the agency will tell Congress they failed to move quickly enough to fix years-long money-laundering violations at Riggs Bank, sources familiar with the testimony said yesterday.
The officials will say at House and Senate committee hearings today and tomorrow that their failure let regulatory lapses at the bank continue for several years.
Two weeks ago, after sharp criticism of bank regulators by members of Congress at similar hearings, Hawke began an internal top-to-bottom review of his agency's oversight of Riggs, back to 1997.
"I want your full and frank assessment as to whether our examination team took appropriate and timely actions," Hawke said in a memo ordering the review. "You should also seek to determine whether there were any inappropriate influences that may have affected our supervisory activities in this case."
Last week Hawke also sent a memo to bank examiners reminding them of the importance of enforcing anti-money-laundering regulations.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is a unit of the Treasury Department and charters and supervises national banks.
Bank regulators may hope a mea culpa by Hawke and Daniel P. Stipano, deputy chief counsel at the OCC, will help deflect talk by some lawmakers that oversight of anti-money-laundering laws should be taken away from bank regulators, according to some congressional aides.
Last month the OCC fined Riggs a record $25 million for failing to report suspicious transactions over several years involving ambassadorial accounts, particularly those connected to Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea. Such transactions are supposed to be flagged to alert federal officials to possible money laundering, which is concealing the source or use of funds for illicit purposes.
The Federal Reserve Board, which regulates bank holding companies, subsequently cited the parent company of Riggs Bank for similar violations.
Stipano is scheduled to testify at a hearing today by the House Financial Services Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, which is chaired by Rep. Sue W. Kelly (R-N.Y.).
"With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the supervisory actions that we previously took against the bank were not sufficient to achieve satisfactory and timely compliance," Stipano's prepared testimony says.
Hawke will make similar comments before the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow.