June 18, 2020
Major money laundering schemes that take place over the course of months or years can often become public in a drastically shorter period of time, leaving potentially exposed individuals and organizations little time to map out their potential exposure and act to mitigate damage in the face of regulatory sanctions or fines. A recent case of money laundering in a prominent Scandinavian bank’s Baltic branch.
According to investigative revelations, Baltic branches of the institution served as a nexus for money laundering from eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Russia in what is thought to be the largest money-laundering scandals in Europe’s modern history. The exposure of the scandal led to Estonia’s regulator ordering the shut down of these branches 2019, and even the suicide of the former CEO of the branch.
10 bank employees, many of whom were former employees of Estonia-based bank to its acquisition by the Bank, were arrested under suspicion of money laundering, aiding and abetting bribery and other charges. The Institution’s head of Private and Foreign Banking Department, second only to the former CEO of the branch, was arrested alongside the 9 other employees who worked as account and client managers under the Private and Foreign Banking Department.
Breaking of major scandals triggers snap risk mapping internally and externally
When a money-laundering scandal is exposed in one institution, regional and correspondent institutions are all under the potential risk of exposure to the complex and secretive networks established by criminals to push dirty cash. Financial institutions must move fast to determine their exposure to these networks both inside and outside of their institution. These can consist of companies and individuals associated with the accused ringleaders and act fast to determine any corresponding suspicious activity prior to any verdict being reached to best protect their assets and avoid being sanctioned.
In cases like these, Banks must carry out law enforcement-grade investigations, including mapping of the offending network and its financial transactions, but often lack the necessary tools to do so. Web Intelligence (WEBINT) is an often under-utilized but key tool in a financial professional’s toolkit. In this case, Cobwebs Technologies’ proprietary, advanced and holistic WEBINT solution was able to expose the affected Bank department head’s network at both the local, regional and global level, uncovering hidden connections and potential sources of exposure throughout the world, using entirely publicly-available data.
The investigation began by searching the department head’s name on Cobwebs’ WEBINT solution and thus understanding his digital footprints, with results ranging from database hits to accounts on publicly-available forums.
Harnessing Cobwebs Technologies’ WEBINT platform to analyze the digital footprints of the accused department head’s uncovered his hidden network and visualized his connections to both other suspects and their own mutual connections, further expanding our understanding of the department head’s internal network and providing a number of other employees to investigate in an internal audit.
Investigating the department head’s social media profiles with Cobwebs’ advanced solution provided insight beyond visualizing connections. Cobwebs’ solution is capable not only of visualizing shared connections but also of identifying and aggregating web-based interaction data, which is crucial to understanding the strength of any given connection.
Analyzing the department head’s social connections in non-official databases identified a shared connection in Hong Kong. Cross-analyzing, both of their profiles, exposed a small number of shared friends – including one who was recently exposed in publicly available offshore data leaks.
Cobwebs Technologies’ WEBINT platform is capable not only of searching individuals and analyzing their social media presence, it’s capable of conducting deep due diligence on individuals or organizations on the dark, deep and open web. Running the department head’s name as a keyword analysis process harnessed the platform’s AI capabilities to gather hundreds of relevant posts, pages, domains, database hits and more.
A particularly interesting match was found on a publicly-posted internal document on a Moscow-Based Russian law firm’s website. This document, a letter of recommendation for the Russian lawyer who acted as a partner in the firm, was written and signed by the suspect department head and indicated deep business and personal ties between the two. Cross-analyzing the lawyer’s profile with the abovementioned data leaked-exposed individual exposed two mutual friends: the suspect department head and an Andorra-domiciled Kazakh businessman.
Exposing the internal and external networks of the suspect department head quickly and easily via Cobwebs’ WEBINT platform provided key insight into potential sources of money-laundering exposure for regulatory agencies, financial organizations, and institutions, businesses and individuals. Affiliation with any one of the organizations or individuals mentioned could potentially pose a risk factor to any potential suppliers, clients or affiliates.
Lessons for financial institutions
Using Web Intelligence, financial institutions can quickly identify their exposure to breaking scandals and undertake best efforts to freeze or flag suspected accounts linked to the network involved. Doing so ensures the strongest protection from regulatory fines and potential reputational damage. The utilization of WEBINT and appropriate tools for investigating it in an expedient and empowered fashion, in this case, exposed a hidden network of ties that could pose a risk to day-to-day business and the assets of any potentially related organizations, clients individuals or others.