Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cuba defends its banks amid Medicare fraud case

Posted on Wednesday, 06.20.12

Cuba defends its banks amid Medicare fraud case
Associated Press

HAVANA -- A Cuban official said Wednesday that the country has strict
controls to avoid money laundering and works closely with banks to
detect and deter fraudulent transactions, responding to allegations by
U.S. prosecutors that millions of dollars defrauded from Medicare were
routed to the island's financial system.

The statement from Johana Tablada, deputy director for U.S. affairs at
the Cuban Foreign Ministry, came in response to a request from The
Associated Press after a Cuban-American man in South Florida was ordered
held in the case this week.

"Foreign commercial banks that maintain accounts in Cuban banks are
obliged to operate in strict compliance with international and Cuban
rules and must guarantee the reliability of their transactions and the
correct use of their accounts," read the statement emailed to the AP on

Tablada did not directly address whether any money from the alleged
Medicare scam has been deposited in Cuban banks. She said that while
Cuba works with foreign banks to fight money laundering, Washington's
50-year-old economic embargo prevents it from doing the same with
American banks.

"It is because of the U.S. government and its policy of blockade" - the
term Cuba uses to refer to the embargo - "that this kind of cooperation
does not exist with U.S. institutions."

On Monday, U.S. prosecutors filed a motion accusing Oscar Sanchez, a
46-year-old Cuban-born U.S. citizen of conspiring to send proceeds from
the alleged Medicare fraud to shell companies in Canada, then to a bank
in Trinidad and ultimately to Cuba.

Sanchez was ordered to be held in custody pending arraignment, scheduled
for Friday. He could face 13 years if convicted. Sanchez's attorney,
Peter Raben, declined to comment on the charges.

The following day, prosecutors clarified that Cuba is not suspected of

"There is no allegation and we have no evidence that the Cuban
government is involved in this case," said Alicia O. Valle, special
counsel to the U.S. Attorney.

But Havana nonetheless bristled at any suggestion it might be complicit.
Some in the Cuban-American exile community have alleged that the Cuban
government might have been taking a cut.

"It is not Cuba but the United States that is the world's main country
for money laundering," Tablada said.

The case against Sanchez is part of a broader investigation of an
alleged Medicare scam involving 70 Florida companies and more than $70
million of fraudulent billings. Much of the money was subsequently sent
abroad, though this is the first example where proceeds are alleged to
have ended up in Cuba.

The U.S. government's Medicare program provides health care to elderly
and disabled Americans.

Also Wednesday, Cuba's Foreign Ministry criticized the June 12
announcement that Dutch bank ING Bank NV would pay a $619 million
settlement to end probes of allegations that between 2006 and 2007, it
secretly funneled billions of dollars through the U.S. financial system
on behalf of Cuban and Iranian concerns in violation of U.S. sanctions.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said the sanctions "make a mockery
of the worldwide demand for the United States to put an end to the
blockade against Cuba."

It also criticized the director of the Treasury Department's Office of
Foreign Assets Control, which is tasked with enforcing the embargo.

"Adam Szubin used threatening and disrespectful language and once again
demonstrated the extraterritorial and interventionist U.S. policy," the
statement said.

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