Chinese Bank Accused of Forcing Out New York Whistle-Blower

  • Ex-staffer told Fed of money-laundering risks, lawsuit says
  • Natasha Taft was chief compliance officer for New York branch

A former Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. compliance officer in New York alleges she was effectively forced out of the lender after telling the Federal Reserve of money-laundering risks from international trade-finance transactions.

Natasha Taft, the bank’s former chief compliance officer in the city, is alleging in a lawsuit that she was punished by management for telling the Federal Reserve Bank of New York of her concerns in late 2014. Agricultural Bank, one of China’s biggest lenders, has denied the allegations.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer denied a motion by the lender to dismiss a “whistle-blower” claim by Taft, who is also alleging that she faced gender discrimination while working as the only non-Chinese female manager at the branch.

Two calls to the bank’s communication department in Beijing on Friday went unanswered. Glenn Kurtz, AgBank’s lawyer with White & Case LLP in New York, didn’t immediately return a call for comment before regular business hours.

The decision came after Taft filed an amended claim, adding new allegations about what she reported to the Fed.

‘New Frontier’

According to the judgment, Taft had suspected that about 30 percent of the lender’s transactions lacked the customer-identifying information that they should have had.

In a memo to a Fed official, she had sought “guidance” over transactions related to clearing U.S. dollars for trade-related customers, where the customers hadn’t been identified on the payment messages, the judgment said. Taft said that trade finance “is a new frontier for money laundering.”

Taft decided not to return to the workplace in June last year after a period of disability leave, the judgment said.

The case is Taft v. Agricultural Bank of China Ltd, 15-cv-5321, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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