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Suspicious Activity Reports Were At The Heart Of The FinCEN Files. This Report Says They Are Underused.

The report, which comes in the wake of a new investigation from BuzzFeed News about corruption in the global banking system, says the Treasury should help cops use the reports to fight money laundering.

Posted on September 24, 2020, at 8:20 p.m. ET

Karen Bleier / Getty Images

The US Treasury Building in Washington, DC.

The Treasury Department should do more to help law enforcement agencies make use of its vast database of financial intelligence, a nonpartisan office that reports to Congress found. That database includes millions of suspicious activity reports, documents that banks file to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, to flag transactions that have the hallmarks of crime.

The report comes days after the FinCEN Files, a new investigation from BuzzFeed News and the more than 100 news organizations of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, exposed flaws in the way these suspicious activity reports, or SARs, are used. They are designed as a tool in the fight against money laundering and terror financing, but experts say they contain a loophole: Banks that flag suspicious transactions are free to process — and profit from — them, all but immunized from prosecution. Sources for the investigation, which is based in part on a huge trove of SARs, said that the majority of SARs are never even read, let alone acted on.

The Government Accountability Office found that although almost 90% of large police departments and nearly a quarter of smaller ones in the United States have personnel dedicated to investigating financial crimes, very few ever use FinCEN’s information. Only 4% to 8% of state and local police departments even asked to search the database in 2018, the report found.

The GAO report also noted that FinCEN officials agreed with its recommendation to develop written policies and procedures to ensure greater use of its information, but disagreed with the agency's assessment that it hadn’t done enough to promote access.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.