Banks braced for FBI probe into Fifa ‘bribes’

The Sunday Times Aimee Donnellan Published: 31 May 2015

British lenders prepare to hand over evidence to US prosecutors investigating their role in football corruption scandal.

Banks’ behaviour ‘will be part of our investigation’, said US attorney Kelly Currie

Banks’ behaviour ‘will be part of our investigation’, said US attorney Kelly Currie (Steffan Jeremiah/Rex)

BRITISH banks named in the Fifa inquiry have launched internal probes into any role they might have played in the scandal. The reviews are the clearest sign yet that HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered are preparing to be dragged into the FBI’s investigation.

Eight global lenders, including the British trio, were named in last week’s sensational 164-page dossier, alleging widespread corruption at football’s world governing body. US prosecutors have accused a clutch of current and former Fifa executives of laundering bribes through accounts at UK, Swiss and American banks.

The allegations will heap further pressure on the British lenders, which have seen their reputations tarnished after being caught up in a series of scandals in recent years.

HSBC and Standard Chartered paid a combined total of more than $2.5bn (£1.6bn) in penalties to settle allegations of money laundering. They remain on probation with American regulators, and could, in theory, be stripped of their US banking licences if found guilty once again of failing to run robust enough money-laundering checks. They may also face hefty fines.

Sources inside the lenders say their compliance divisions are already poring over thousands of transactions, to ensure proper checks were conducted.

Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Julius Baer and UBS were also named in the court papers.

US authorities say they are also investigating financial institutions to see if they were aware of any bribes being laundered. “It’s too early to say whether there is any problematic behaviour, but it will be part of our investigation,” said US attorney Kelly Currie.

A number of the named banks are confident they did everything they could to prevent money laundering. However, they said that payments could have been overlooked as wealthy individuals routinely shift large sums of money around the globe. “Moving $1m-$2m would not necessarily have raised red flags,” said one bank official.

In one transaction listed in the file, HSBC allegedly facilitated the transfer of more than £325,000 to the account of a luxury yacht builder in London.

On another occasion in 2012, Costas Takkas — a British Fifa executive — allegedly received $1m in his account via Standard Chartered and HSBC. The original sum is said to have come from an account in Miami and was sent to HSBC in New York and then to a front company in the bank’s Hong Kong branch. One week later, $1m was said to have been sent through two wire transfers to Standard Chartered and then on to Takkas’s account in the Cayman Islands, the court papers allege.

The Serious Fraud Office said it was assessing material relating to the Fifa bribe allegations. The agency “stands ready to assist ongoing criminal investigations”.

The banks declined to comment.

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