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This week, a released cache of thousands of reports from major banks showed that these institutions ignored their own concerns and willingly moved trillions of dollars around the world on behalf of suspected terrorists, criminals and corrupt governments.
Known as the “FinCEN Files” because the banks’ reports were filed with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), this cache was brought to light by a group of international journalists. There were more than 2,100 suspicious activity reports released this way, which referred to more than $2 trillion of transactions occurring from 1999 to 2017, according to The New York Times.
Lenders that filed such reports and then willfully ignored their own concerns include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, HSBC and Deutsche Bank. These groups moved funds for the likes of a Taliban-tied company, groups connected to the North Korean regime and the organizer of a sovereign wealth fund fraud in Malaysia.
There’s definitely a Rabbit Hole to be explored about FinCEN and its laborious journey to regulate cryptocurrency activity. But I think the real entry point from this revelation about the world’s foremost financial institutions is through the misappropriated reputation that Bitcoin has for money laundering.
A great place to start on the connections between BTC and money laundering is with this Bitcoin Magazine article from 2013. Bitcoin has long held a reputation for facilitating dubious transactions — thanks to its pseudonymity and privacy protections, BTC was the currency of choice for the world’s most prolific darknet market, Silk Road. Silk Road was such a prominent fixture in the Bitcoin economy that Vitalik Buterin covered the project in a two part report for Bitcoin Magazine back in 2012.
But the truth is that while Bitcoin is a pretty solid tool for obscuring financial transactions (as Aaron van Wirdum covered in this exploration of Bitcoin privacy technology from 2018), it’s far less capable of protecting privacy than some other cryptocurrencies out there. And, as the FinCEN Files have underscored, the world’s premier financial institutions are regularly laundering money as well.
So, even though darknet market activity will probably always remain connected to Bitcoin (as we explained last year), this week’s bombshell report is another reminder that Bitcoin’s use as a tool for criminals is just another myth that might apply better to the world’s legacy systems.