Magazine article American Banker

OCC Guidance on BSA Said Linked to Wells Case

Magazine article American Banker

OCC Guidance on BSA Said Linked to Wells Case

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Responding to criticism from lawmakers and questions about whether it treats large banks preferentially, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is taking steps to clarify how it deals with anti-money-laundering violations.

The agency recently issued guidelines on its Web site detailing the procedures it follows when Bank Secrecy Act problems are discovered and the steps banks can take to appeal decisions by local examiners.

The OCC said it released the two-page guidance Dec. 23 to ensure that banks know its process is "measured, fair, and fully informed," according to an accompanying memo. But industry observers said the guidance was a clear response to questions raised last year about its supervision of Wells Fargo & Co.

Senior OCC managers overturned the recommendations of field examiners that Wells receive a formal cease-and-desist order for anti-laundering lapses. A February memo recommended a public enforcement action, but after a meeting between Julie Williams, then the acting comptroller, and Richard Kovacevich, the chief executive officer of Wells, the memo was redrafted to recommend a less strict, nonpublic action.

OCC officials have said the agency acted appropriately, but some lawmakers and bankers have accused it of granting preferential treatment to one of the largest banks it supervises.

The Treasury Department's inspector general is investigating the matter and is expected to issue a report next month.

Observers said the new guidelines are an attempt to codify the OCC's internal procedures and demonstrate it did not treat Wells differently.

"Some of it is in response to the perception, which I don't subscribe to, that somehow decisions made in the field can be undone if pressure is brought to bear at the highest level of the organization," said Peter Djinis, a former Financial Crimes Enforcement Network official who now runs his own law firm. …

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