Money Services Fight Anti-Drug Plan: Proposal Targets Money Laundering

Article excerpt

The money services industry is out to kill a Clinton administration drug-fighting plan to curtail money laundering by imposing new limits on companies that handle cash transactions.

The rules would require non-bank companies such as currency exchanges, check cashers and other money services to register with the Treasury Department and report all suspicious activity, including all overseas transfers exceeding $750.

Officials said the rules would cut off the "life blood" of drug traffickers.

But industry leaders argue the proposals would devastate their business and make life difficult for millions of immigrants who often wire money back home.

"It is simply unneeded, burdensome and exceedingly costly," said Ezra Levine, chief counsel for the Non-Bank Funds Transmitters Group, who represents several large companies including Western Union, American Express and Citicorp Services.

Currently, all financial companies must report any transactions exceeding $10,000. Most banks have strict procedures for monitoring identities of customers, patterns of tranactions and other suspicious activity.

But non-bank entities are not nearly as organized, and one industry representative said more regulation would cost businesses millions.

Mr. Levine is now busy preparing his objections to be aired at a series of Treasury Department hearings this summer.

"To begin to suggest this will have any effect on drugs sales is completely not true. It's going to cost my clients up to $8 million a year, and it's going to cripple smaller firms."

Several smaller wire transfer companies such as China Wire of Fairfield, N.J., focus on individual countries around the world.

Company President Gilles Sticker said many immigrants wire money out of the country because they distrust large banking institutions, or simply avoid banks because they do not have the proper identification needed for routine transactions. …