The bank ING Belgium was involved in more than 100 financial transaction alleged to be suspect, according to a set of leaked files known as the FinCEN Files.
The news is reported by Le Soir, Knack and De Tijd, each of which has a reporter assigned to the international consortium of investigative journalists who received the link.
The files relate to transactions carried out by major banks which are suspected of being related to large-scale money-laundering. Of the 2,100 files on suspicious activities contained in the leak, and specifically 365 regarding Belgium, 179 refer to ING Belgium.
Also, in the period covered by the leaked files, from 2011 to 2017, ING Belgium is the most involved of all Belgian banks in suspect activities.
ING Belgium offered services of correspondent banking – where one bank acts on behalf of another bank, usually in another country. In most cases, such services are innocent,
However the FinCEN files claim that some of the correspondents of ING Belgium, in Barbados, Bulgaria and Lithuania, were of dubious repute, and used correspondent banking services to transfer funds of clients hidden behind shell companies – considered a sign that money laundering may be going on.
But ING Belgium was not directly involved, the documents show. Instead, it acted as an additional link in the chain which serves to hide the origin of the funds concerned.
Correspondent banking works like this: A bank in Bulgaria, say, needs to make a payment denominated in US dollars on behalf of a customer. Normally it would use a correspondent bank in the US for that purpose.
But if the Bulgarian bank has no correspondent relation in the US, or if it wishes for any reason not to attract the attention of the US banking authorities, it simply has to add one link to the chain by corresponding with a Belgian bank which then in turn uses its own US correspondent bank.
And that, the files allege, is the role played by ING Belgium.
Approached for comment by De Tijd, ING Belgium declined to say anything regarding particular cases or clients. However a spokesperson did tell the paper that changes have been made since the period referred to in the FinCEN files.
“ING is constantly taking steps to strengthen its strategy in the fight against financial crime, and to comply with laws and regulations,” spokesperson Safia Yachou told the paper.
“This also applies to the provision of correspondent banking services. ING is constantly assessing its relationships with other banks.”
The new measures, she said, are intended to reinforce the bank’s role as ‘gatekeeper’.
“In recent years, this has resulted in the ending of a number of relationships that did not meet our auditing standards or were not in line with our risk policy,” she said.
“That is based on an objective assessment that aims to prevent abuse of our bank and to reduce the potential exposure to the risks of money laundering, terrorist financing, corruption and/or sanctions.”
Among the other measures implemented, she revealed, the bank has set up a network of some 4,000 employees in Belgium and worldwide, whose aim is to combat financial crime.