Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records

Source: New Yorker | May 16, 2018 | Ronan Farrow

A law-enforcement official released the documents after finding that additional suspicious transactions did not appear in a government database.

Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department’s inspector general has launched a probe to find the source. That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen’s financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.

The payments to Cohen that have emerged in the past week come primarily from a single document, a “suspicious-activity report” filed by First Republic Bank, where Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, L.L.C., maintained an account. The document detailed sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Cohen by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, the telecommunications giant A.T. & T., and an investment firm with ties to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The report also refers to two previous suspicious-activity reports, or SARs, that the bank had filed, which documented even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen’s account. Those two reports detail more than three million dollars in additional transactions—triple the amount in the report released last week. Which individuals or corporations were involved remains a mystery. But, according to the official who leaked the report, these SARs were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN. The official, who has spent a career in law enforcement, told me, “I have never seen something pulled off the system. . . . That system is a safeguard for the bank. It’s a stockpile of information. When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.” The official added, “That’s why I came forward.”

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Banks are legally mandated to file suspicious-activity reports with the government in order to call attention to activity that resembles money laundering, fraud, and other criminal conduct. These reports are routed to a permanent database maintained by FinCEN, which can be searched by tens of thousands of law-enforcement and other federal government personnel. The reports are a routine response to any financial activity that appears suspicious. They are not proof of criminal activity, and often do not result in criminal charges, though the information in them can be used in law-enforcement proceedings. “This is a permanent record. They should be there,” the official, who described an exhaustive search for the reports, said. “And there is nothing there.”

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