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On September 20, BuzzFeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published the FinCEN Files, a comprehensive investigation of global financial institutions involving “more than 400 reporters in 88 countries”. The FinCEN Files investigation purportedly “reveal[s] how some of the world’s biggest banks have facilitated the work of notorious terrorists, drug cartels, and despots” and centers around more than 2,100 suspicious activity reports (“SARs”) submitted to the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”). Banks and other financial institutions submit SARs when they observe transactions that suggest money laundering or other illegal activity, and while these reports can support investigations and intelligence gathering, they are not by themselves evidence of a crime. The FinCen Files included SARs filed by nearly 90 financial institutions.
According to the FinCEN Files investigation, “HSBC’s Hong Kong branch allowed WCM777, a Ponzi scheme, to move more than $15 million even as the business was being barred from operating in three states. Authorities say the scam stole at least $80 million from investors, mainly Latino and Asian immigrants, and the company’s owner used the looted funds to buy two golf courses, a 7,000-square-foot mansion, a 39.8-carat diamond, and mining rights in Sierra Leone.”
Following these allegations, on September 21, 2020, shares of HSBC fell by more than 6.5% in intraday trading, significantly damaging shareholders.