Deutsche Bank Pays Price for Deep Corruption
German-based investment bank fined US$150 million for moving billions of slippery money out of Russia, abetting child molester Jeffrey Epstein
The Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank has agreed to pay US$150 million in fines to New York authorities over an affair reaching back for more than a decade and involving some of the most notorious money-launderers and others in the world who were involved in spiriting billions of dollars of stolen money out of Russia and into safe havens.
The 38-page consent order, reached on July 6, ties together some of the century’s biggest financial scandals amid allegations that Deutsche, an investment bank, and its subsidiaries helped the Estonia unit of Danske Bank, Denmark’s biggest lender, move as much as US$2 billion of suspected criminal funds into the United States and also conducted thousands of correspondent transactions worth more than US$600 billion with the Cyprus-based FBME, one of the world’s most corrupt banks until it was closed down in 2017 by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Some of that money appears have come from people close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
According to the agreement, Deutsche also maintained a US$150 million private account despite clear misgivings over his activities for Jeffrey Epstein, the mysterious American financier and convicted sex offender who committed suicide last year in the middle of a huge scandal involving many of society’s so-called bold-faced names including former US President Bill Clinton, billionaire Victoria’s Secret founder Leslie Wexler, celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz and Britain’s Duke of York, Prince Andrew, among others.
The account, under the name “the Butterfly Trust,” was said to be among 40 established by Epstein allegedly used, among other purposes to pay off 16-year-old girls whom Epstein, allegedly with the help of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, lured into having sex with much older, much more important men. The case cites Epstein’s relationships with a “prominent former US Politician,” without naming who that might have been although it appears clear it was Clinton. Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested on July 2, leading to speculation that the timing of the announcement of the settlement may have been related to her apprehension.
The New York order delivers an implicit criticism of the handling of a controversial Florida case in which Epstein was named a sex offender, saying: “According to press reports, in 2006 the State Attorney handling the case, after meeting privately with an attorney representing Mr. Epstein, referred the case to a state grand jury instead of charging Epstein and co-conspirators for crimes for which local police believed there was abundant evidence. As a result, the Palm Beach Police Chief publicly denounced the State Attorney and referred the case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which subsequently opened its own investigation and interviewed potential witnesses and victims.”
The Florida State Attorney was Rene Alexander Acosta, who would later be named Labor Secretary in the Trump administration until he was forced out over the Epstein controversy.
“The [New York Department of Financial Services] has determined that Deutsche Bank failed in various respects to meet these obligations fully with respect to three different customer relationships: one direct customer relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and entities related to Mr. Epstein; and two dollar-clearing/correspondent banking relationships with foreign banks, FBME and Danske,” according to the consent order.”
The case was under the jurisdiction of Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District Court of New York, who was fired by President Donald Trump on June 20 but refused to go at first. Berman put Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, in prison and was investigating his current one, Rudy Giuliani, when he was cashiered.
Deutsche is one of the world’s largest banks, with a network that spans 58 countries. It is Germany’s largest banking institution and was also the go-to bank for Trump himself during continually troubled periods for his real estate empire, loaning him as much as US$2 billion although the New York consent order issued today doesn’t deal with questions over Trump’s finances. The bank cut Trump off twice when he fell short, but kept lending to him despite a recognition that he was a risky client. Those transactions are also said to be under investigation by the Southern District.
According to an exhaustive 2016 account by writer Ed Caesar in New Yorker Magazine, from which much of this background has been drawn, Deutsche has been involved in an astonishing range of criminality, paying more than US$9 billion and fines and settlements since 2008 including colluding to manipulate the London Interbank Offer Rate, violating US sanctions by trading in pariah countries, manipulating the price of gold and silver and defrauding mortgage companies.
According to the New York financial institutions report, its relationships with FBME were shocking: “Despite the high number of suspicious transactions in relation to FBME, the Bank facilitated 478,379 dollar-denominated transactions totaling more than $618 billion over the course of the relationship.”
FBME, which Deutsche Bank aided in a vast money-laundering, was the subject of a series of Asia Sentinel stories in 2017 and 2018 over its role as a repository for hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from what was then Bank Century, the Indonesia-based bank that capsized during the Asian Financial Crisis of 2008 and 2009.
According to a report by money-laundering expert Peter Barrie Brown, quoted by Asia Sentinel, enormous amounts went into and out of FBME and Saab Financial (Jersey) Ltd., a dissolved company whose successor, also liquidated, was Financial (Bermuda) Ltd. In his report, Brown said, “The number of separate reasons for being suspicious are so many in total that I rate the whole arrangement and its operation to be the greatest collection of suspicious circumstances I have ever encountered in real life.”
As Asia Sentinel reported at the time, FBME bank had among its depositors arguably the biggest collection of financial outlaws the world has seen in decades. It is as if every illicit international operation on the globe from the Russian Mafia, allegedly backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, to Indonesian, Japanese and Thai money launderers to Somali pirates to phishing scams to international drug decided that the bank, a branch of the Tanzanian FBME Bank Ltd, was the place to store ill-gotten gains. Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, who allegedly exploited Angola’s wealth, was one of FBME’s biggest depositors.
As Asia Sentinel reported, some of the funds allegedly were steered into the construction of a Syrian nerve gas factory manufacturing gas used in the savage civil war that has raged for nine years. Nonetheless, according to the report, “Deutsche Bank was the largest of the few remaining Western banks that had continued to maintain correspondent banking relationships with FBME.” It finally decided by July 18, 2014 to end its relationship
There were suspicions that Hezbollah, the Shi’ite organization labeled a terrorist group, has routed its financial operations through shell entities found in the now-defunct bank’s 6,500 accounts. The most notorious flow of funds was believed to be from Russian interests which, according to one source – who declined to be named because, he said, “I don’t want Russian thugs to come to my door and kill me” – allegedly deposited and laundered as much as US$500 million through FBME.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control, an agency of the US Department of Treasury, or OFAC, placed sanctions on several of the depositors and transferees, including the Syrian Scientific Research Center – which was believed to have manufactured the sarin d, as well as Balec Trading, a front for the research center into which Russian funds flowed.
According to the ruling closing the bank, FinCEN considered “shell company activities accounting for hundreds of millions of dollars between 2006 [and] 2014.” FBME is accused of maintaining accounts for the head of an international drug trafficking network as well as a Syrian proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and the former owners of Bank J Trust before it changed its name.
Deutsche’s role, among other things, was to allow so-called mirror trading, in which Russian brokers would place two trades simultaneously in Russian rubles through the German bank, the first to buy a blue-chip Russian stock, and a second, via the same broker acting on behalf of a different company, typically registered in an offshore territory such as the British Virgin Islands would sell the same in the same quantity, in London, in exchange for dollars, pounds, or euros.
Because the Russian and offshore companies belonged to the same owner, the trades were designed to turn rubles stuck in Russia into dollars secreted overseas. It was widely suspected that the vast amount of money involved was stolen.
Deutsche Bank has admitted that, until April 2015, when three members of its Russian equities desk were suspended for their role in the mirror trades, about US$10 billion was spirited out of Russia through the scheme. Deutsche in 2015 was fined US$55 million by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for irregularities but admitted no wrongdoing. In a 2016 article in New Yorker magazine, an investigator was quoted as saying of the bank that “There was cultural criminality. Deutsche Bank was structurally designed by management to allow corrupt individuals to commit fraud.”