WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Angus King (I-ME) introduced the Combating Cross-border Financial Crime Act of 2023. The legislation would establish a Cross-Border Financial Crime Center within the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate investigations and information sharing related to financial crimes with a nexus to the U.S. border.
“The U.S. needs a coordinated effort to combat counterfeit and illegal goods crossing our border. Our current approach is simply not working,” said Dr. Cassidy. “A Fusion Center dedicated to fighting illicit trade will protect Americans and stop drug traffickers, Chinese counterfeiters, and other bad actors from profiting off of gaps in our customs laws.”
“International kleptocrats, criminals, and cartels are exploiting regulatory and enforcement gaps to move their loot across our borders and launder it through our financial system,” said Senator Whitehouse. “My bipartisan bill with Senator Cassidy will better coordinate our whole-of-government response to financial crimes and help ensure the kleptocrats and criminals hiding their money in America will be held to account.”
“Our current response to cracking down on illicit cross-border trade is broken, and siloed departments are creating gaps for money launderers and other criminals to slip through,” said Senator King. “The Combating Cross-border Financial Crime Act of 2023 would establish a Cross-Border Financial Crime Center within the Department of Homeland Security that coordinates information sharing, so federal law enforcement can work seamlessly with state, local and international partners to fight crime, terrorism and the financial structures that enable them.”
The United States and its global partners have a 99 percent failure rate when combatting the financial networks of transnational criminal organizations. As a result, massive illicit proceeds flow through the U.S. financial system each year, totaling approximately $466 billion in 2021. These illicit funds enable transnational criminal organizations, kleptocrats, tax evaders, and terrorists to expand their empires and undermine American national and financial security, and our public health infrastructure.
While multiple U.S. agencies broadly address financial crimes, there is no agency whose mission is to focus solely on cross-border financial crimes, or to coordinate related investigations and information sharing. This lack of coordination contributes to the 99 percent failure rate, and allows bad actors to launder funds into, through, and out of the U.S.
The senators’ legislation would create a central hub, the Cross-Border Financial Crime Center, to coordinate and analyze financial crime data and investigations across the federal government. The Center would be located within the lead criminal investigation arm of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI is well-positioned to house and operate the Center because the agency has unique access to the cross-border trade data required to combat trade-based money laundering.
The Cross-Border Financial Crime Center Act also provides stable funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s Trade Transparency Units (TTU) program. The TTU program prevents criminal actors from exploiting international trade and financial infrastructures by establishing agreements with partner nations to share import-export data. The bill prohibits funding for the Center or the TTU program from being used to support any immigration removal or enforcement activities.
In 2021, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report outlining the need for better information sharing and collaboration to address Trade Based Money Laundering (TBML). Cassidy and Whitehouse requested the report in 2018 as part of the ongoing effort to combat TBML. The report recommends the Treasury Department establish an interagency information sharing and data analysis program and that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) begin sharing Trade Transparency Unit (TTU) data, data used to identify suspicious transactions, with relevant agencies.
Last year, the Senate passed a resolution led by Cassidy urging Congress to combat international criminal organizations, illicit trade, and the use of TBML.