Cablegate: Taiwan Money Broker Blues
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TAIPEI 003766
DEPT PASS TO AIT/W AND USTR
DEPT FOR EAP/TC, EAP/EP, EB/IFD/OIA AND NKWG
TREASURY FOR OASIA MOGHTADER AND OCC AMCMAHON
TREASURY ALSO PASS TO FEDERAL RESERVE BOARD OF GOVERNORS,
SAN FRANCISCO FRB AND NEW YORK FRB
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON PINR KCRM KTFN TW HK
SUBJECT: TAIWAN MONEY BROKER BLUES
REF: TAIPEI 3288
1. (SBU) Hong Kong professional money laundering
investigator Peter Gallo (reftel) has written a letter to
warn AIT about possible negative consequences of USG efforts
to crack-down on unlicensed money brokers. AIT/Econ thought
the letter contained some interesting points and that it
might also be of interest to Washington agencies. The entire
text of the letter is given in para 2. AIT has supplemented
the text with some explanations.
2. (SBU) Begin text of Gallo,s August 30, 2005 letter:
The anti-money laundering project that I was engaged on when
I met you in Taiwan has taken a turn for the worse, and my
client (a Hong Kong bank) now has a serious problem caused by
US regulatory policy that is threatening to put them out of
What is more worrying, however, is that this seems to be a
problem being faced by Money Service Businesses (MSB)
throughout the United States. I am concerned that it will
create a very serious situation that will affect money
laundering in many countries in Asia.
The problem is that my client,s US clearing bank, under
pressure from their regulators, (the Office of the Controller
of the Currency) have now informed them that they can no
longer accept this business because it involves parties who
are operating in Taiwan without a license.
If my client is forced to close down, a number of perfectly
legitimate (if unlicensed) brokers in Taiwan, who have
operated in this business since 1949 - and who actually WANT
to be properly licensed ) will be driven further
underground, losing any goodwill or any hope of co-operation
in the future. (Note: Taiwan law enforcement authorities do
not see these unlicensed brokers as legitimate, but rather as
clearly in violation of the law.)
If they were engaged in anything fundamentally criminal, I
would have absolutely no sympathy, but I have investigated
the situation myself in some detail and found that this is
just not the case.
Indeed, despite being &illegal8 ) they are very anxious to
comply with anti-money laundering requirements.
The problem is that the US regulators are simply obsessed
with money remittance companies right now. I have spoken to
colleagues in the US who tell me about many other businesses
where US banks closed their accounts and put them out of
I understand that Bank of America has just sent out letters
to EVERY MSB customer they have in the US telling them that
they are closing their accounts, so this is going to have an
effect on money remittance companies all across Asia.
If it has not already done so, it is only a matter of time
before the problems start. My belief is that if the
legitimate operators are closed down, this will just create
an opportunity that criminals and terrorists will fill
We must accept the reality that there is a flow of US dollar
cheques into Taiwan. If these cannot be cashed by legitimate
MSBs, it will create a gap in the market that Organized Crime
will be only too willing fill. To date, the &underground
banking8 business in Taiwan has remained remarkably free of
Triad involvement, but that may change.
At the moment, that cheque discounting activity is being run
on a commercial basis, and despite the fact it is labeled
illegal, the parties engaged in this business can trace
any cheque and identify where they got it. If this activity
falls into the hands of criminal syndicates, that will simply
no longer be possible.
Criminal syndicates could buy these cheques and mail them
into the US to be cashed on a piecemeal basis, leaving great
gaps in the paper trail that will frustrate any subsequent
The Taiwan situation, however, pales into insignificance
compared to the problems facing migrant workers in the US
from Pakistan; if they cannot use money remittance companies,
they will resort to using whatever services are available to
If the US authorities actually believe that they will
immediately form an orderly queue at the local bank, they are
deluding themselves; banks have never been competitive in
this business, their services are too expensive and slow, and
in many cases, the recipient of the funds does not have a
bank account, and will be in a rural area many miles away
from a bank branch anyway.
I have no doubt that someone in the community will offer the
service informally; and in the case of Pakistan in
particular, this could well mean terrorist-related entities.
Instead of doing anything to prevent the flow of funds to
terrorists; the US bank regulators could actually be
delivering the business to them.
We assume that US cheques in Taiwan have no terrorist
connection, but if the legitimate established operators get
out of this business and other less reputable entities move
in to fill the gap, there is not telling whose hands those
cheques will pass through.
The fact that those cheques would not appear to be connected
to any jurisdictions of concern, or any entities on the OFAC
list, makes them particularly attractive for Islamic
We have already seen how the 7/7 bombers in London were
selected because they did NOT fit the pre-established
profile. I believe that &non-obvious8 strategy will extend
to finding ways of moving money around that does not conform
to a profile that we are already expecting.
The use of third party cheques, particularly involving an
unconnected third country, would be ideal for this.
This whole misguided approach is ridiculous and something has
to be done about it. Creating conditions that encourage the
growth of illegal money remittance services at the expense of
legitimate companies is insane; it creates a serious problem
where none currently exists.
I am bringing this to your attention because I believe
something has to be done about it at an official level, and
hopefully done before it is too late.
On the other matter (North Koreans seeking currency exchange
and investment opportunities in the Philippines), I will go
to Manila as soon as my contact is back
Peter A Gallo
GPO Box 7278
Tel: 852 3176 4900 (H)
Tel: 852 9095 1410 (M)
End text of letter.