British Authority Fines GTBank for Money Laundering


Britain's financial services regulator said  it had fined the UK subsidiary of Nigeria's Guaranty Trust Bank (GUARANT.LG) (GUARq.L) 525,000 pounds ($815,000) for failing to have adequate controls to prevent money laundering.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said that between May 2008 and July 2010, GT Bank UK had failed to assess potential money-laundering risks, screen customers against sanction lists, establish the purpose of the accounts being opened in their London branch or review the activity of “high risk” accounts.

“Banks are at the front line in ensuring the proceeds of crime do not enter the UK financial system,” said Tracey McDermott, the FCA's director of enforcement.

“GT Bank's failures were serious and systemic and resulted in an unacceptable risk of handling the proceeds of crime.”

GT Bank UK's managing director said in a statement: “We have fully co-operated with the FCA in its investigation and we have accepted the findings.” The statement said the lapses occurred early in its set up in Britain and had since been addressed.

London has been a favorite money-laundering venue for corrupt Nigerian politicians and criminal gangs. The role of British-based banks was highlighted during the trial and conviction of James Ibori, former governor of Nigeria's oil-producing Delta State, last year.

Ibori and his mistress held accounts at several British banks through which they laundered millions of pounds, it was alleged in the court case.

He is serving a 13-year prison sentence for embezzling 50 million pounds of state funds.

Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) of the United Kingdom said Guaranty Trust Bank Ltd (GT Bank) was fined £525,000 for failings in its anti-money laundering (AML) controls for high risk customers between May 2008 and June 2010, adding however that the inquisition has extended to 2013 because the Nigerian relevant authority has not acted.

These failings are particularly serious as they affected customers based in countries associated with a higher risk of money laundering, bribery or corruption, including accounts held by politically exposed persons (PEPs).

GT Bank, a subsidiary of Nigerian Guaranty Trust Bank PLC, opened an office in London in May 2008 offering retail and wholesale banking products and services to private, corporate and institutional clients.

The FCA's predecessor, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), reviewed GT Bank's controls as part of a thematic review into banks' management of money-laundering risks in 2010.  The review of GT Bank raised significant concerns and after further investigation, the FCA found that GT Bank failed to establish effective AML policies and procedures when they established their UK operations. This included failure to:

•    Assess or document potential money-laundering risks posed by higher risk customers

•    Screen prospective customers against sanction lists or databases of PEPs

•    Obtain and/or document senior management approval to establish a business relationship with PEPs

•    Establish the purpose and intended nature of prospective customers' accounts or the sources of higher risk customers' wealth or funds

•    Review the activity of higher risk customers' accounts and check that the information they held on these customers was up to date.

As a result, GT Bank was not able to fully understand or assess their higher risk customers' activities.  This breached FCA Principle 3, which requires firms to take reasonable care to organise and control their affairs responsibly and effectively, and a number of our rules on systems and controls.

Tracey McDermott, director of enforcement and financial crime, said:

“Banks are at the front line in ensuring the proceeds of crime do not enter the UK financial system.   GT Bank's failures were serious and systemic and resulted in an unacceptable risk of handling the proceeds of crime.

“Regardless of whether firms are well established or new to the industry they must ensure that they have systems and controls to manage money laundering risk.

“The FCA will continue to focus on potential money laundering risks, in line with our objectives to protect and enhance the integrity of the UK financial system and will be 'intensive and intrusive' taking action where serious issues are identified.”

GT Bank settled at an early stage of the investigation and qualified for a 30% discount on its fine. Without the discount the fine would have been £750,000.

In a statement, GTB UK said that the lapses in its systems and controls issues occurred during the early years of its operations in the country.

Ade Adebiyi, GTB UK Managing Director, said his bank has fully co-operated with the FCA in its investigation and has accepted the findings.

“The failings are now historic and GTB UK has addressed the lapses, with procedures and processes that are now fully compliant,” he noted.   “The FCA found no evidence that GTB UK did in fact handle any proceeds of crime.

Nigeria Political Economist