In a recent 60 Minutes episode on CBS, Global Witness, the nonprofit with the goal to “change the system by exposing the economic networks behind conflict, corruption & environmental abuse,” revealed the stunning fact that the United States has become the “easiest place to set up an anonymous company after Kenya, out of 180 countries.” As a result, GW decided to test the system by trying to get meetings with some fifty law firms. Thirteen firms accepted meetings and only one turned them down outright. One other firm said they would require more information before taking on the client.
What did these firms want to continue talking about? Well, basically helping a fictitious minister of natural resources in an unnamed African nation to move fictitious funds he received from bribes from corporations who wanted mineral rights, which he has control over. Obviously, the lawyers did not know of their fictitious nature. Still, the videos, which 60 Minutes showed, were rather damning.
The paradox is that US has one of the strictest rules and regulations for Know-Your-Customer and Anti-Money Laundering in the world, but all of those laws pertain to the practices of financial institutions. Lawyers are exempt from much of the reporting rules, making it easy for them to get by undetected.
Charmian Gooch, a co-founder for Global Witness, made herself available for interviews with CBS on this piece to share these shocking revelations. In the process, probably made herself a target of many law firms. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, that there are more law firms willing to work with her organization, now that it has put itself on the map of the general public.
Marcus Maltempo is a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist and a Certified Fraud Examiner with more than a decade of experience helping banks, law firms and clients manage investigations and regulatory responses.