Australian Bank Accused of Millions of Money Laundering Breaches
Regulators have begun civil proceedings against Westpac Banking Corporation alleging more than 23 million money laundering rule breaches, Australia’s anti money-laundering and terrorism financing regulator (AUSTRAC) said Wednesday.
AUSTRAC says that among the millions of violations, Westpac enabled payments from convicted child sex offenders and high risk countries over a period from November 2013 to September 2018.
The UK newspaper The Guardian spoke to an expert after the civil proceedings were announced who said that the bank will likely face fines that could top a billion dollars. The Guardian says that a spokesman for the Australian Federal Police confirmed that authorities are looking into payments by Westpac customers possibly linked to child exploitation in the Philippines.
Westpac, Australia’s second-largest bank, revealed it was under investigation last November. In a statement published Wednesday, officials emphasized that they have self-reported a large number of regulatory failures. CEO Brian Hartzer was quoted as saying, “These issues should never have occurred and should have been identified and rectified sooner.”
Australian media have reported that Hartzer countered the regulator’s accusation of “indifference by senior management.” He argued in part that the bank had dramatically increased spending on compliance.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he’s “absolutely appalled” at the accusations, according to Australian outlet 7 News.