Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
American Institute Taiwan, Taipei
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TAIPEI 003288
DEPT PASS TO AIT/W AND USTR
DEPT FOR EAP/TC, EAP/EP, EB/IFD/OIA AND NKWG
TREASURY FOR OASIA ZELIKOW,WISNER AND OCC AMCMAHON
TREASURY ALSO PASS TO FEDERAL RESERVE BOARD OF GOVERNORS,
SAN FRANCISCO FRB AND NEW YORK FRB
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/08/2020
TAGS: ECON PINR KCRM KTFN RP TW
SUBJECT: INSIGHT INTO EAST ASIA MONEY LAUNDERING
Classified By: AIT DIRECTOR DOUGLAS PAAL, REASON 1.5 B/D
¶1. (S) Summary. A Hong Kong private investigator discussed
with AIT Econ on July 14 his ongoing investigation into three
unlicensed Taiwan money brokers that have been sending U.S.
dollar bank and travelers’ checks to his client, a Hong Kong
bank. The investigator had come to Taiwan to determine if
the money was of criminal origin and to persuade the
unlicensed brokers to collect customer information needed to
comply with U.S. banking laws. On August 2, the investigator
provided AIT with a somewhat plausible explanation of the
several tens of thousands of dollars in sequential, unsigned
travelers’ checks issued in South Korea that the Taiwan
brokers regularly send to Hong Kong. The investigator is
also looking into the possibility that North Korean
businessmen may be seeking to change money and make large
investments in Manila. End Summary.
¶2. (C) Hong Kong private investigator Peter Gallo of Pacific
Risk Ltd. visited AIT on July 14 to discuss his investigation
into three unlicensed money brokers that were sending U.S.
dollar bank and travelers, check to his client, a Hong Kong
bank, for currency exchange. At the time of his meeting with
AIT, Gallo had not yet met with any of the three brokers, but
planned to do so over the next few days. Gallo was aware
that the unlicensed money brokers were operating “outside of
the law” yet he hoped to find that the money was not the
proceeds of criminal activity, that the brokers could be
persuaded to keep the customer records required by anti-money
laundering banking regulations, and that the business
relationship between the brokers and his Hong Kong client
could continue without violating banking regulations.
¶3. (C) Gallo said the total daily U.S. dollar value of the
checks his client received from the three brokers was “well
into six figures.” Most of the checks were drawn on U.S.
banks and had valuations under $1000. However, among the
travelers, checks there were often $30-40,000 worth of
sequential, unsigned checks that had been issued in South
Korea. In one instance, Gallo found a sequential series of
unsigned travelers, checks with a total value over $100,000.
¶4. (C) Gallo said he did not suspect the bank checks of
being criminal proceeds since they were for small amounts
(usually from 25 to a few hundred dollars) and were drawn on
a large number of different U.S. banks. Nor did he think the
money was the fruit of graft or corruption in Taiwan, since
the details did not seem to fit local corruption. He
suspected that most of the money was coming from a triangular
trade wherein small business in Taiwan obtained U.S. dollar
checks through direct sales to U.S. customers (perhaps from
sales over the internet), and exchanged them for Taiwan
currency at the unlicensed brokers to avoid bank records,
taxes and high bank exchange fees. Gallo thought another
part of the triangle trade was the tens of thousands of
illegal Chinese immigrants in Taiwan who lacked legal status
and identification documents but wanted to repatriate money
to relatives in China. These people could not deal with
banks that ask for identification, so they use the unlicensed
money brokers for currency exchange and transfer via Hong
Kong to accounts in mainland China.
¶5. (C) Gallo was very surprised when AIT informed him that
he was the only person in the past year to approach AIT
asking how to bring unlicensed money brokers “into the fold”
(how to make them comply with anti-money laundering
regulations). He had assumed this would be a common concern,
and while he only knew of the three unlicensed brokers that
sent money to his Hong Kong client, he assumed there were
hundreds of such brokers in Taiwan.
North Korean Seeks Investment Opportunities in Philippines
¶6. (S) Gallo also told AIT that a “confidential informant”
of his in Manila called him in mid-June to discuss a North
Korean businessman who wanted to exchange currency and make
large investments in the Philippines.
¶7. (C) AIT has informed Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice and
Financial Supervisory Commission of the outlines of Gallo’s
story. They confirmed that “unlicensed money brokering” is
clearly a violation of Taiwan law. They added that as far as
they were aware there was no way to legalize such activities.
Money exchange must be done through banks that follow
required anti-money laundering procedures.
Gallo’s Follow-up Report
¶8. (S) Gallo sent AIT/Econ a follow-up e-mail on August 2
after his interviews with the unlicensed money brokers with
what he thought was a credible explanation for why large
quantities of sequentially numbered, unsigned travelers’
checks issued in South Korea. According to Gallo, the money
brokers had explained to him that it is common practice for
tour group leaders to bring cash with them to pay for the
group’s hotels and other expenses. Paying in cash allows
them to negotiate the prices already agreed. Once the tour
group arrives in Taiwan from South Korea, the tour guide will
call hotels and try to get a better deal than the one holding
the reservation. The tourists in the group can be palmed off
with some excuse about a change in the itinerary, and the
tour guide pockets the difference. This deal depends on the
ability to pay cash. Travelers’ checks are simply the best
way to carry cash. Gallo said he would follow-up with his
informant in Manila and report the results.