Australia's Biggest Bank Rejects Fresh Laundering Claims


Australia's largest bank the Commonwealth on Friday denied a slew of new claims by the country's financial intelligence agency that it breached anti-money laundering laws, and rejected a major class action over the allegations.

The lender, Australia's biggest company by market capitalisation, has had a torrid few months amid a flurry of action by regulators.

They include a court case filed by financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC in August that alleged the bank engaged in "serious and systemic non-compliance" of anti-money laundering laws involving thousands of transactions.

AUSTRAC in December filed 100 other claims regarding the Commonwealth Bank of Australia's (CBA) alleged failure to disclose suspicious transactions on time, or not at all. The maximum penalty for each breach is up to Aus$21 million (US$16 million).

In response to the additional claims, the bank on Friday admitted 11 allegations in part and denied 89 in full. 

"We understand that we play a key role in law enforcement and we take our anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing obligations extremely seriously," the bank added.

CBA last year admitted to the late submission of 53,506 reports to AUSTRAC for cash transactions of Aus$10,000 or more at ATMs, but said Friday they "should be treated as a single course of conduct". 

The financial giant could face a massive fine, with the matter due in court next month.

CBA added that it would "categorically deny all allegations of liability" in an open shareholder class action filed by law firm Maurice Blackburn and litigation funder IMF Bentham.

The class action -- which the law firm said could become Australia's largest -- claimed CBA had not informed shareholders of the risk of AUSTRAC action and neglected its disclosure obligations as a listed firm.

But the bank said "there was no price sensitive information about the matters raised in the AUSTRAC proceeding that required disclosure ... and maintains that it at all times complied with its continuous disclosure obligations".

"CBA first became aware of AUSTRAC's proceeding on the day it filed its statement of claim with the Federal Court on 3 August 2017," it added.

The lender is also facing court action by corporate watchdog Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) over the alleged rigging of the benchmark interest rate, which is used to set the price of domestic financial products such as bonds and loans.

In reporting a half-year cash profit of Aus$4.87 billion earlier this month, CBA said it had put aside Aus$375 million to pay potential fines from the money-laundering scandal.

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