Spain’s top criminal court on Thursday fined four former employees of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC, 中國工商銀行) 22.7 million euros (US$25.5 million) and handed them brief jail terms for laundering millions of euros for Chinese criminal groups.
The four included two senior executives of the Spanish branch of the partially state-owned ICBC.
As the jail terms were between three and five months, the four are unlikely to spend any time behind bars as first-time offenders in Spain are usually spared jail for sentences of under two years if convicted of a non-violent crime.
The investigation began in February 2016, when police arrested six bank officials on suspicion of letting traders move money earned through smuggling and tax fraud out of the country, without checking the origin of the funds as required by law.
According to the National Court, ICBC — which entered the Spanish market in January 2011 — set up a Madrid-based entity whose services were mainly used by Asian criminal groups, notably the Emperador-Cheqia and Snake organizations. It attracted 140 million euros in deposits, with Snake notably holding 70 accounts.
Bank staff, including its European director-general Liu Gang and two other employees, had “stubbornly disregarded” regulations against money laundering and were accepting cash deposits of any amount.
The court said Snake had paid 41.6 million euros in cash into the ICBC account between January 2011 and October 2012.
Staff had then helped by providing “a cover” for the movement of funds, through letting them split payments, use the bank’s anonymous in-house accounts and through the shared use of false ID documents, it said.
“The Spanish branch was an ideal instrument for massive money laundering operations in the service of criminal organizations,” the court said.
Although Snake had tried to move money through “many other banks” their anti-laundering mechanisms were alerted and the operations were blocked.
It said that from 2011 to 2016, ICBC’s Spain branch was the only entity that did not send a single report about suspect operations to the Spanish money-laundering watchdog SEPBLAC.
The court also flagged a “serious failure” on the part of the bank’s parent company, ICBC Luxembourg, saying it had failed in its obligation to ensure its subsidiaries were complying with regulations against money laundering.
It also imposed restrictions on ICBC Spain, barring it from receiving subsidies, state aid, financial incentives or benefits for two years to ensure it “can avoid being exploited in the future in a similar criminal situation.”
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