The vital role of financial investigations as demonstrated by the Christchurch terror attack

The vital role of financial investigations as demonstrated by the Christchurch terror attack

19 NOV 2021

Sometimes when working in AML/CFT compliance thoughts can creep into our mind that the work we do in this space will never come to anything – but it’s important to understand that any piece of suspicious information no matter how large or small may be vital to an investigation.

The vital role of financial investigations as demonstrated by the Christchurch terror attack

At the 2021 FIU / ACAMS Conference we were privy to a great example of how this happens in the real world; we heard from the lead financial investigator about what went on in the 48 hours following the Christchurch terror attack and how financial investigations and intelligence work hand in hand.

While frontline police and detectives were putting the physical case together, a financial case was started. Financial investigators worked tirelessly to corroborate facts, confirm timelines and provide new lines of enquiry for the lead investigators.

Some of the key financial questions they were seeking answers to were:

  • Does the financial profile of the suspect(s) match their ‘life’ profile?
  • Does the financial information/intelligence identify others that may be involved?
  • What was the suspect(s) source of income/wealth etc?

The lead financial investigator on the case was able to quickly answer all of these questions through both good hardnosed investigation techniques and intelligence information.

It was particularly interesting hearing how they were able to build a profile of the suspect from a very early stage through the reconstruction of financial and banking information alone. This included his world travel and what he did while travelling. These insights helped to answer many questions, the most important being whether this was the work of someone acting alone or a group.

Throughout the presentation he referred to AML reporting entities and how their persistence in reporting suspicious activity is key to many financial investigations undertaken by the police. The information that our industry provides can literally be the difference between making or breaking a case.

We also heard that while not every suspicious activity report results in a ‘case of the century’ the information assists with building statistics that go on to inform red flags and types of people (typology).

Key tips:

  • Remember that financial investigations are effective in all types of investigations not just money laundering or terrorist financing. Police and other investigation agencies rely on intelligence gathered from all reporting entities – including yours.
  • All activities or transactions that are perceived as suspicious, need to be reported. No matter how relevant you think the information may be, it might just be the missing piece in the puzzle that investigators need to crack the case.
  • It’s important that all front-line staff are trained to recognise red flags so that any activity or transaction can be bought to the attention of their compliance officer.