The management of Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA) piloted a roadmap to cover up the unspeakable secrets of its clients, hide falsified information and guarantee the “fiscal and criminal” security of this entity, intervened in 2015 after the complaint by the Department of United States Treasury for allegedly laundering funds for criminal groups from Russia, China and Venezuela.
This is confirmed by dozens of emails from former employees included in a report prepared in June 2022 by the auditor and consultant PwC. The emails expose the illegal methods to attract clients in America, the irregular transfer of hundreds of millions to Andorra through opaque corporate rackets and the prohibited sending of Visa cards to some clients, among other irregularities.
With 7,000 million managed, the management of what was the fourth entity in Andorra, a microstate of 79,000 inhabitants between Spain and France. shielded until 2017 by banking secrecy, he knew the operation and described these maneuvers in writing: “Crime”, “illegal”, “cover” or “irregular situation”, according to some letters, which also warned of the consequences of this modus operandi : “Prison or disqualification of up to 10 years.”
Higini Cierco, one of the bank’s owners, denies the accusations, describes the entity as “model” and affirms that it operated “legally.”
Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay
The messages in the PwC report reveal how former employees of the bank’s subsidiaries in Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay transported their clients’ sensitive documentation in suitcases and laptop cases. Also, how they feared inspections by regulators and predicted that they would end up “in jail”. “300 pages in a laptop bag or backpack are difficult to hide,” an employee predicted in July 2009 in an email with a copy to the former head of the international area Pablo Laplana and the former deputy general manager Xavier Mayol. “The transport of documentation has repercussions as a criminal offense, I’m going to jail and I don’t play with that or allow it to anyone,” another worker was suspicious a month later in a letter sent to the aforementioned former executives.
In an email addressed to four former executives, including Laplana, an employee was sympathetic in 2009 with staff members reluctant to transport sensitive information from customer checks and credit cards. “The issue is more delicate. Whoever is afraid, better abstain because it is for the only reason, the evasion of currency, that they detain you, it is a criminal offense, you are a resident wherever you are, ”she pointed out. Another message from December 2011 recognized the anomalies in Latin America: “In Uruguay we are in an irregular situation that can lead to economic sanctions of up to 300,000 dollars and disqualification of up to 10 years.”
According to the communications, the bank’s management allegedly maneuvered to keep the information of clients who placed funds in the bank through exchange houses, a mechanism that the Andorra Police connects with money laundering schemes due to the difficulty of tracking the money. origin of money The disclosure of this information entailed -according to another email- “an enormous risk for those here and for the bank in the event of an inspection.” “Every month, I have to decide how the documentation comes out, if in my suitcase or in that of one of the BPA executives to whom I plug everything I can when they pass by. To everyone, without exception”, recognized in July 2009 another former member of this financial entity to which the clan of former Catalan president Jordi Pujol turned to shelter more than five million between 2006 and 2015.
Along with exchange houses, another of the systems used to transfer money from America to Andorra were opaque corporate networks. Sheds that channeled funds from companies offshore Panamanians created by the bank. The mechanics were developed “without supporting documentation (sometimes manufactured ad hoc)”. And, according to the auditors, it was intended to “make traceability difficult.” “The origin and final destination of the funds were unknown,” they conclude.
To prevent leaks, an employee proposed a plan in September 2009. “Tease out [la información] and, no way, keep it here or have a hiding place, with a lot of wads. If they find us one day, why are they following me, because of the neighbor’s leaks, we are dead [sic]the worker suggested.
And it is that the eventuality of a data leak became an obsession. “Decision of the bank’s management, we will destroy the hard drives,” acknowledged a worker in January 2011. “I want to be in the office all day with the computer to delete and shred everything that is necessary,” added another in June 2010. “I want to ask a question about a button that deletes everything,” added a third.
Formatting of sensitive information
Analysis of the emails confirms that the orders came from above. “At the request of Joan Cejudo [exsubdirector general de la BPA y exmiembro del comité de cumplimiento], it is necessary to proceed with the physical destruction, in addition to the previous formatting, of the hard drives that are in the office in Argentina”, another email concluded. In January 2011, an employee described the erasure of hard drives as a tactic to guarantee the “fiscal and criminal” security of the workforce. “It would be convenient to do the same thing we did in Mexico, put up a new database, and notify them not to keep any mail,” reveals another communication.
The precautions of former employees, communicated in copy to the address, were intended to hide the alleged laundering practices that the bank provided to criminal groups. The BPA had as clients the Odebrecht plot, the main bribery payment network in Latin America, and the group of former Chavista leaders who looted more than 2,000 million from the main company in Venezuela, Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), according to the documents.
The employees recognized the malpractice in their letters. “It would be falsifying documentation… which is the usual thing,” said a worker.
The new emails contained in the PwC report are part of a complaint against the BPA filed by the Andorran Banking Entity Resolution Agency (AREB) that was admitted for processing last March. The messages allegedly reveal that the bank worked to hide crime money and “funds of dubious origin.” And that the staff knew its origin. “All the money comes from state subsidies. instead of investing [los fondos] in the country, they take them out so that control is lost. I don’t know where M. gets these clients with such obvious political ties”, indicated a BPA Argentina worker in October 2009. “In this case, apparently, there is a mess of commissions to someone from the Government”, collected another email.
dirty money from corruption
The BPA was also allegedly the destination for dirty money from corruption. “In 2010, a transfer of about $300,000 slipped through, which turned out to be bribes. [sobornos] Ricardo Jaime”, admitted a message from March 2012. Jaime was a Secretary of Transportation in the cabinets of former Argentine presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner convicted of corruption.
An employee of the financial institution acknowledged having proof of the payment of a bribe of 250,000 dollars to an Argentine federal judge to thwart investigations against the entity. “In part it has benefited us because they will no longer investigate BPA so directly,” said this employee in a message addressed to former deputy general director Xavier Campos.
“In compliance (compliance) we know many things, the question is whether we have them documented before an inspection and the answer is no, ”another email alerted.
The PwC report reveals that some of the malpractice collected in the emails was possible thanks to the leadership of the entity. And it highlights how correspondent banks such as JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, UBS Stanford and Commerzbank in Frankfurt gave up continuing to work with the BPA between 2010 and 2014 due to the entry of funds of dubious origin. “The alleged irregular practices were carried out under the knowledge, intervention and consent of the entity’s CEO and certain members of BPA’s senior management.”
For this reason, the main executives of the bank are accused of money laundering in different cases in Andorra. The ex-responsible in Mexico, Joan March Masson, appears as being investigated in the investigations against Juan Ramón Collado, lawyer for the former president of this country Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018); the former head of the international area Pablo Laplana is indicted in the main piece. And the former CEO Joan Pau Miquel is also listed as a defendant in the case that investigates the bribery payment network of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.
Higini Cierco: “BPA was a model bank that operated legally”
Higini Cierco, one of the owners of Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA), responds to EL PAÍS that the PWC audit document is a “party report” commissioned by the Government of Andorra. It is, he says, “a new attempt to justify the illegal expropriation of BPA.” Cierco describes the bank as “exemplary and profitable” and adds that it operated “with rigor and within the law.”
“The report refers to matters not related to the FinCEN note, which was used by the Government to nationalize the bank in 2015. The BPA reported all clients considered possibly problematic to the relevant authorities, in accordance with Andorran regulations. The efforts of shareholders and employees to improve anti-money laundering regulations were recognized by the Spanish courts when they examined the matter in 2019.”
Cierco affirms that the intervention harmed 700 families, BPA workers and employees of the Spanish subsidiary, Banco Madrid. He maintains that the move was also negative for hundreds of customers and shareholders. “We lost about 500 million euros in the illegal expropriation,” he says.
In his opinion, the measure against the bank was the result of “a verbal note from the United States embassy in Madrid that coincided with dark interests (of the PP government) to obtain information from specific BPA clients.” It refers to the Andorran accounts of the Pujol clan [la familia del expresidente de la Generalitat ocultó entre 2006 y 2015 más de cinco millones] and the attempt by members of the so-called patriotic police to obtain that information.
Cierco was summoned to testify, at his own request, in the Congressional Investigation Commission that is investigating the irregular actions of various police commanders.
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