Australian Bank Slapped With Record Fine For Thousands Of Suspicious Transactions

Jun 4, 2018
Originally published on June 4, 2018 7:45 am

Australia's largest bank has been hit by a record $531 million fine for delays in reporting tens of thousands of transactions – a breach of the country's anti-money laundering and counterterrorism regulations.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia, or CBA, admitted that it had been late in reporting 53,000 transactions in excess of AU$10,000 over a three-year period from 2012 to 2015. The settlement, which amounts to AU$700 million, is the largest civil penalty in Australia's corporate history.

The allegations against the bank first surfaced in August. At the time, The Sydney Morning Herald wrote that the government alleged that the suspicious transactions were allowed "to wash through [Commonwealth Bank's] ATMs, including six instances when the bank believed the customers were possibly financing terrorism but did not report them to authorities in the required time."

The newspaper added, "Criminal gangs also laundered more than $70 million through the bank, as part of millions in cash deposits made through the bank's ATMs."

CBA blamed a software error in its deposit-taking ATMs "and argued those violations should be treated as one rather than as a series of individual offenses," according to The Associated Press.

Ultimately, the bank agreed to the fine with the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, or AUSTRAC. As part of the settlement, Commonwealth Bank also agreed to pay nearly $2 million (AU$2.5 million) in government legal costs.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the fine as "huge."

"I just want to say, once again, that we will not tolerate wrongdoing in the financial services sector. Where it has occurred, we will ensure those who are responsible are held to account," Turnbull said.

The CBA scandal precipitated the departure of the bank's former CEO, Ian Narev, shortly after the allegations became public.

The bank's new CEO, Matt Comyn, said of the settlement, "While not deliberate, we fully appreciate the seriousness of the mistakes we made."

"Our agreement today is a clear acknowledgement of our failures and is an important step toward moving the bank forward. On behalf of Commonwealth Bank, I apologize to the community for letting them down," Comyn, who took over as chief executive in April, said in a statement.

The CBA's fine dwarfs the previous record of $34.5 million (AU$45 million) in February 2017 on similar charges against Australia's wagering giant Tabcorp.

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