What is a Suspicious Activity Report, (SAR) and Why Should You Care?
By: Lisa M. Hayes – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
In the coming days and weeks, you’re going to hear a lot about Suspicious Activity Reports or SARs. So, it might be helpful to understand what a Suspicious Activity Report is and why they are making the headlines now. Most likely unless you’re in banking professionally, you’ve never heard that term before until maybe a few days ago.
Here’s the long version: (don’t worry it’s not that long).
In financial regulation, a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) or Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) is a report made by a financial institution about a suspicious or potentially suspicious activity. The criteria to decide when a report must be made varies from country to country but generally is any financial transaction that does not make sense to the financial institution, is unusual for that particular client or appears to be done only for the purpose of hiding or obfuscating a transaction.
The report is filed with that country’s financial crime enforcement unit, which is typically a specialist agency designed to collect and analyze transactions and report these to relevant law enforcement units. Frontline staff in the financial institution have the responsibility to identify transactions that may be suspicious and these are reported to a designated person that is responsible for the reporting the transaction. The financial institution is not allowed to inform the client or the parties to the transaction that a SAR has been lodged.
For example, in the United States, suspicious transaction reports must be reported to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an agency of the United States Department of the Treasury.
SARs include detailed information about transactions that are or appear to be suspicious. The goal of SAR filings is to help the government identify individuals, groups, and organizations involved in fraud, terrorist financing, money laundering, and other crimes.
Here’s the Cliff Notes version: A banking employee who understands the system, the reporting requirements, and financial law sees something they think might be outright illegal or tied to illegal dealings.
The banking professional then has to file a report with FinCen. A SAR is no joke. When a bank submits a SAR they are indicating their client is participating in fraud, terrorist financing, money laundering, or other crimes. Banks don’t take those concerns or allegations lightly. Banks know they are in the business of protecting their customer’s privacy. For that reason, SAR’s are probably rarer than they should be.
We all know there was a pornstar and a soon to be president. That story has been told. We all know that Michael Cohen paid the pornstar $130,000 in hush money for an alleged affair Trump still denies. At face value, while that’s salacious and may have violated campaign finance and reporting laws it probably doesn’t rise to the level of being criminal – or at least not criminal enough to carry much, if any kind of penalty.
However, for weeks, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels has been making a lot of noise around asking the Treasury to release potentially several Suspicious Activity Reports issued by First Republic Bank. That is Michael Cohen’s bank. These reports were believed to be directly related to the hush money payment and potentially other transactions involving that account.
So, while paying off a pornstar might not be illegal, First Republic Bank thought something was illegal, we just don’t know what. Despite the fact that Michael Avenatti has formally requested the Department of the Treasury release those Suspicious Activities Reports to the public – they have not and probably will not. The Department of the Treasury is not required to make that information public. However, by requesting the reports publicly Michael Avenatti is making sure everyone knows they exist.
Why are these SARs so important?
Because a SAR indicates likely criminal activity – of the very criminal kind – the kind that carry big penalties, like jail.
These particular SARs are important because there may be more to this story than a lurid affair and a payoff. The story is probably well documented in the SARs.
In the process of investigating the account used to pay Stormie Daniels Michael Avenatti and his team uncovered a list of people and companies who’d paid Trump’s attorney in the weeks following the election.
On that list are Russian Oligarchs and Massive Corporations like ATT. There is no legitimate reason a Russian Oligarch should be requesting those kinds of insights. The fact that they paid raises a lot of alarm bells for too many reasons to count. The corporate payments seem to indicate corporations were paying for insights into Trump’s administration – to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In fact, most involved have admitted that. That in and of itself is not necessarily illegal.
But something was very likely illegal. Suspicious Activity Reports were filed. It may not be where the money in the account came from. It may be where the money went. In every interview he is doing, Michael Avenatti is pushing that point. He’s doing a lot of interviews. He’s getting his point across.
At this time, we know Trump passed money through that account to pay off Stormie Daniels. That’s been admitted. It’s not unrealistic to think money flowed both ways through that account. We know Trump put money in to pass through. It’s not much of a stretch to think money also passed through TO Trump. When Russian Oligarchs are involved, that possibility is eyebrow-raising and would be criminal.
But we’re guessing. Everyone is because no one knows what’s in those reports. What we do know is something triggered Suspicious Activity Report(s) plural, against the President’s attorney. That’s a very big deal.
No one is questioning the legitimacy of Michael Avenatti’s revelation about the payments to the President’s attorney. Those reports have been verified and confirmed by multiple sources. What everyone is questioning is how Michael Avenatti got that information in the first place. Michael Avenatti ain’t talking.
The Treasury Department has opened an investigation into whether bank records belonging to President Trump’s private lawyer were illegally leaked to the lawyer for porn actress Stormy Daniels. I’m sure the bank itself is also investigating. However, the running and most likely theory is Michael Avenatti got ahold of the Suspicious Activity Reports somehow. Chances are high there’s more in those documents than what we currently know.
Suspicious Activity Reports are usually not made public for a reason – because they are a “suspicion”. The Department of the Treasury takes a stand that it wants to avoid damaging a reputation before a proper investigation verifies the allegations. We don’t know the exact status of those Suspicious Activity Reports. However, we do know that Mueller has already questioned most if not all of the people who paid Cohen money that was deposited in that account. So, it might not be a stretch to think the Department of Treasury alerted the Special Council about what they found.
At this point, it looks like Michael Avenatti and Robert Mueller have something in common. They both seem to know things that aren’t yet public. They both seem to be two or three steps ahead of the rest of us. Robert Mueller has made his career by working in silence revealing nothing ahead of his very calculated schedule. Michael Avenatti is quite the opposite. He’s a media man. However, when he says there’s more to come it’s believable because he’s delivered more than anyone anticipated so far.
More by Lisa M. Hayes:
Lisa Hayes, The Love Whisperer, is an LOA Relationship Coach. She helps clients leverage Law of Attraction to get the relationships they dream about and build the lives they want. Lisa is the author of the newly released hit book, Score Your Soulmate and How to Escape from Relationship Hell and The Passion Plan.
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