The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has a reputation for providing cross-border assistance to countries in a variety of areas, all aimed at promoting the greater health and well-being of the global financial system. In response to the growing quantity and overall quality of threats found within it’s the borders and beyond, the DOJ has begun to take a more thorough, hands-on approach to the aid it provides to its international allies, leading the charge in one notoriously troublesome area in particular for many of the world’s lesser developed countries: Piracy. By definition, piracy is defined as the illegal copying of licensed and copyrighted materials from the Internet. This relatively broad definition has given many in today’s society, adolescents in particular, the impression that this activity simply pertains to the downloading of movies and music from online websites, when in actuality its scope and effects are far more harmful that one might think. The trend also pertains to software developed and produced in a multitude of industries, many of which offer pirates and those downloading these illicit files advanced capabilities for free or a far-discounted cost, typically through the ever-popular “bit torrent” file sharing platforms. Still not convinced this is a major issue? In 2014, the Institute for Policy Innovation estimated that the United States economy “loses $12.5 billion in revenue and other economic measures each year due to online piracy” in the music industry alone (Insurance laws, 2014). Couple this with the other sectors affected, in addition to the technology boom that has erupted in recent years, and it is very likely that these figures have multiplied exponentially in the years leading up to now.
Music theft is the largest form of piracy in the world today, leading to significant losses in jobs and wages within the industries affected, while also costing the U.S. government and the governments of many countries abroad a fortune in lost tax revenue. As of 2017, it has been estimated that “sound recording piracy leads to the loss of 71,060 jobs to the U.S. economy”, while also costing U.S. federal, state and local governments “a minimum of $422 million in tax revenues annually” (RIAA, 2017). In addition to it being illegal to violate the terms of copyrights and trademarks, opponents of piracy maintain that these acts are especially malicious in that they limit profits for production companies and the staff they employ, while also reducing the amount of money that key players in these productions such as the artists and programmers themselves, respectively, can ultimately obtain. The piracy trend has begun to impact more and more countries across the globe, as technology of some variety has been made available to all social classes in almost every region of the world. The aforementioned statistics are staggering, especially when considering that the United States has taken a stern approach to combatting piracy through legislation and enforcement via imprisonment and large fines for those partaking in activities of this nature. With that being said, the piracy epidemic has become far worse in countries without the infrastructure or adequate enforcement measures in place that the U.S. currently has.
Online piracy remains one of the largest issues facing the financial world today, and is a trend that does not appear to be slowing down. What makes this trend different from others that can be handled somewhat easier is that piracy is often a tricky form of crime to contain, as “pirate sites and services tend to operate in multiple jurisdictions and are purposefully set up to evade law enforcement” (Van der Sar, 2017). International cooperation is key in this regard, thus rather than sitting back and letting the economies of other countries fall victim to the effects of piracy, the U.S. has stepped up to the plate, leading a series of training programs for investigators and officials from countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey over the course of November aimed at combatting online piracy.
The article “U.S. government teaches anti-piracy skills around the globe”, cited in BSA News Now on December 18th, explains that with piracy developing into a significant problem in Eastern Europe, the program lead by one of the more influential wings of the U.S. government set out to update participants on several important matters. These included legal issues that surround both the investigation and prosecution of online piracy, as well as common themes found in past piracy cases and convictions. The DOJ believes that after receiving adequate training through its seminars, local law enforcement within these countries will be better equipped to spot and subsequently deal with these problems. Also on hand for the seminars was the Director of the DOJ’s CCIPS Cybercrime Laboratory, who stressed the importance of computer forensics in solving cases of this nature, ultimately providing participants with forensic tools that could be implemented immediately following the conclusion of the conference. Another key note added by the presenters, a group that included law enforcement professionals from around the world, was that money laundering and tax offenses could be used in conjunction with piracy charges in order to inflict tougher penalties on criminals. According to transcripts from the training sessions, “Participants were encouraged to consider the use of statutes such as money laundering and tax evasion, in addition to those protecting copyrights and trademarks, since these offenses are often punished more severely than standalone intellectual property crimes” (Van der Sar, 2017). While still a work in progress, the U.S. DOJ’s interventions are likely to be quite beneficial for countries afflicted by piracy issues, and given their effectiveness, more conferences of this variety are likely to be scheduled in the near future.
Another Corruption Accusation Brought Against ‘Crooked Hillary’
Last week concluded with a bang, as the Committee to Defend the President (CDP), a political action committee, filed a legal complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that once again draws former Presidential-hopeful Hillary Clinton’s morals into question. The complaint alleges “the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) used state chapters as strawmen to circumvent campaign donation limits and laundered the money back to her campaign” (Chiaramonte, 2017). After reportedly soliciting donations from primetime donors and liberal celebrities, the substantial funds accrued were allegedly sent through state chapters and back to the DNC before ultimately ending up in the Hillary Victory Fund (HVF). The CDP found “the HVF either never transferred the money to state chapters and back to the DNC, or did so without the state chapters having actual control”, an infraction that was not previously discovered (Chiaramonte, 2017).
The manner in which the tactics were employed have lead many to question why this information was unveiled for the first time well over a year after the election. By utilizing the FEC’s public records, the CDP put the pieces together to ultimately find that “repeatedly throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, HVF would purportedly transfer funds to its constituent political committees, which included between 34 and 40 state parties”, with these parties then contributing all of these funds to the DNC within the next 24 hours. The funds that were illicitly funneled are alleged to have amounted to $84 million, a total that would have provided a significant boost to Clinton’s campaign efforts. These alleged contributions, if legitimate, break longstanding FEC campaign contribution rules that allow for a max contribution of just $2,700 USD by an individual to a presidential campaign. These accusations are the latest in a long line of claims made against Clinton throughout her tenure in the political sphere, casting a cloud over her professional duties in the past. Global RADAR will provide an update on this case as more information becomes available.
Germany Joins the Campaign for Global Bitcoin Regulation
Earlier this week, the German government decided to enlist alongside its European counterparts to push for regulation of Bitcoin at the international level. Transnational bodies have been working together towards a potential solution to the problems posed by the world’s most prominent cryptocurrency, specifically in regards to use of the anonymous “coins” by terrorists and financial criminals. Many of the world’s largest and most powerful countries have agreed that it would be mutually beneficial to have joint regulation of Bitcoin. This is a topic that French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has lobbied to discuss at the next G-20 meeting, a forum that promotes discussion on policies pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability amongst these global powers.
As cryptocurrencies continue to grow, EU lawmakers have begun to set a framework for the new currencies to fall under current anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CTF) regulation. According to reports, EU representatives of the member states “agreed on a revision of the bloc’s anti-money laundering rules Friday, extending the framework to firms that ‘are in charge of holding, storing and transferring virtual currencies’” (Buergin, Jennen & Follain, 2017). Although there have been few signs of Bitcoin being used to launder money in Britain and other European countries thus far, analysts expect that this risk will rise in the near future, making AML regulations vital to reduce the threat of cybercrime. It appears that the overall tone has been set in regards crypto legislation, with the movement from strictly national to broad international regulation being viewed as the only way to manage the pervasive threats posed by the “money of the future.”
Colombian Officials Tied to Money Laundering
With the threat of criminal money laundering in South American countries seemingly always present, the United States has warned Colombian authorities in the past about the importance of expanding their anti-money laundering programs to counter such activity. While the sovereign state continues to sit idly, it appears that U.S. authorities are attempting to pick up the slack, extending their reach into the country’s political realm. Early last week, U.S. immigration agents began an investigation into several Colombian officials with alleged ties to money laundering. The investigation began when a congressional automobile was discovered outside of the home of an individual recently arrested for allegedly running a transnational network of money laundering for drug traffickers and high-rolling criminals. The lead-launderer, Diego Alberto Vidal Dussan, is alleged to have himself trafficked over $24 million in double-bottom lined suitcases to countries such as Panama and Peru from Colombia.
According to reports, “suspicions of a congressional connection were first aroused when Luis Javier Rojas Morera, the son of a former government assets manager, was found with a congressman’s car and US$200,000 in cash” (Telesur, 2017). Vidal has been no stranger to government ties in the past, as he had previously been found with other government vehicles in his possession in recent years. Although arrested and taken to trial, Vidal was ultimately released due to lack of proof of an underlying crime in relation to his laundering network, as the individuals whom the money was being laundered for were never identified. The Colombian money laundering market has been regarded as one of the most under-rated in the world, as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents continue to emphasize its power and expansiveness.
Buergin, Rainer, et al. “Germany Joins French-Led Moves to Regulate Bitcoin at G-20 Level.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 18 Dec. 2017.
Chiaramonte, Perry. “Hillary Clinton Campaign, DNC Accused of ‘Corrupt’ Money Scheme in New FEC Complaint.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 19 Dec. 2017.
“ALL THE FACTS ON ONLINE PIRACY.” Insurance, 2017.
Romero, Geovanny Vicente. “Colombian Officials Under Investigation For Money Laundering.” News | TeleSUR English, 19 Dec. 2017.
“The True Cost of Sound Recording Piracy to the U.S. Economy | IPI.” RIAA, 2017. Van der Sar, Ernesto. “US Government Teaches Anti-Piracy Skills Around The Globe.” TorrentFreak, 17 Dec. 2017.