Bank owner disputes money-laundering allegations

McClatchy Newspapers
Kevin G. Hall

The owner of a tiny bank in faraway Macau that the U.S. government blacklisted after accusing it of laundering the illicit gains of North Korea’s leaders has appealed to the U.S. Treasury to reverse its decision. He claims that the U.S. government itself had encouraged him to maintain North Korea’s accounts.

The May 2 statement by Stanley Au raises new questions about the Treasury’s decision March 19 as well as the Bush administration’s assertions that the North Korean regime has used the Banco Delta Asia to introduce counterfeit U.S. $100 bills into circulation.

In his declaration, Au said that some $160,000 in counterfeit American currency had turned up at his bank in 1994 but that he’d reported the incident to Macau’s police after he’d learned the money was fake. A short time later, U.S. government agents called on him, he said.

“I cordially answered the questions and asked if their preference was that we should desist from doing business with North Korean entities,” Au wrote. “They said they would like us to continue to deal with them, as it was better that we conducted this business rather than another financial entity that may not be so cooperative with the United States.”

Au made his statement as part of an appeal of the Treasury’s blacklisting of his bank for what it describes as insufficient controls against money laundering and passing fake U.S. currency into the global financial system. The family-owned bank in the Chinese-controlled enclave of Macau is now in government receivership.

Au said that because the meetings took place 13 years ago, he’d forgotten the agents’ names. The U.S. Secret Service, under Treasury control at the time, investigates the counterfeiting of American currency, but Au didn’t specify with what agency he met.

The Treasury declined to comment on Au’s statement or the appeal.

“In the next couple of years, the Bank was periodically contacted by other U.S. government agents and we cooperated in their inquiries,” Au said in a statement to the Treasury first published by China Matters, an Internet blog.

“Since those meetings, I believed that the U.S. government knew of my willingness to cooperate with regard to the Bank’s North Korean business and, indeed, to end that business if this would help prevent unlawful conduct.”

The statement to the Treasury also said that international accounting giant Price Waterhouse Coopers audited the bank’s finances annually and didn’t raise questions about its business or accounting practices.

Shortly after the Treasury’s initial September 2005 action sent the bank into receivership, Macau’s monetary authorities asked independent auditor Ernst & Young to audit the bank’s books. The audit, obtained and published by McClatchy Newspapers, found insufficient money-laundering controls but no evidence that North Korea used the bank to introduce fake $100 bills.

Au’s 10-page declaration also countered another allegation by the Treasury, that Banco Delta Asia maintains a relationship with one source of the bills in 1994.

Au said he’d closed two of the three accounts into which the counterfeit bills had been deposited, San Hap General Trading Co. and Kwok Tou, an individual. Both were known to have been doing business with North Korea, and neither challenged the closure. Au said he’d assumed that was an acknowledgement of guilt.

However, the third company, Zokwang Trading Co. Ltd. – which the Treasury alleges remains in an unsavory relationship with Banco Delta Asia – told authorities and bank officials that the counterfeit money deposited into its account had come from China and that it had no knowledge that it was fake.

Au said he’d warned Zokwang officials that the account would be closed if counterfeit money came through again. Shortly afterward, Banco Delta Asia began sending all large U.S.-dollar deposits to Hong Kong for screening at what today is banking behemoth HSBC.

“To the best of my knowledge, Zokwang has never since 1994 been found to be the source of counterfeit funds deposited with Banco Delta Asia,” Au said.


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