Financial firm head convicted of money laundering

Decision sets precedent by treating Luze’s 466 unlawful transactions as serious criminal offenses rather than disciplinary misconduct.

Gavel from Reuters 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)
Gavel from Reuters 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)
The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court has issued a precedent-setting decision, convicting the founder of a financial services firm of a money laundering crime for what had previously been considered only disciplinary misconduct, the courts announced Saturday night.
The decision itself was issued on Thursday.
The executive, Benzion Luze, was also sentenced to criminal sanctions, including a suspended sentence of six months in prison, a NIS 50,000 fine and the transfer of NIS 200,000 to the forfeiture authority.
The conviction came following a plea bargain by Luze.
The charges that Luze was convicted of included violating a lawful order under the Criminal Penalties Law, the Money Laundering Law and a money laundering regulation requiring oversight, reporting and verification of client information regarding currency exchange services.
Under Israeli law, currency exchange services can cover a wide variety of transactions.
The Money Laundering Law also covers a variety of criminal activity, including activities that the public might not always think of as criminal.
The conviction was based on Luze’s conduct in running the company Amit Liam Trade and Holdings from January 2008 to March 2010.
During that time, Amit Liam would receive problematic checks from clients and in return would give the clients funds or Amit Liam checks matching the check amounts.
The clients generally came to Amit Liam as they needed funds immediately to pay off debts and would also pay a fee to Amit Liam for its service.
Luze’s unlawful activities involved at least 466 transactions and NIS 17 million in which he, among other things, failed to verify the identities of his clients according to the relevant heightened standard for these which receive extra scrutiny.
Normally the registrar for currency exchange services merely decides disciplinary sanctions against offenders, which consist of only fines and similar economic sanctions.
For example, in this case, prior to the criminal proceeding, Amit Liam was fined NIS 120,000 by the currency registrar.
However, the state has decided to up the ante for offenders now that the use of currency exchange transactions has exploded.
With the increase in these activities, the state decided it is important to signal to offenders that the consequences of breaking the rules will not be merely disciplinary and economic against the company, but criminal charges against the individuals responsible.
Still, the court’s actual sentence for Luze was relatively light under the conditions of the new legal regime’s criminal sanctions.
The court explained this outcome as a transitional result in the move toward criminal sanctions for offenders.
Although the court did want to send a strong message to offenders, it did not feel that it could penalize an offender in the first such case to the full extent of the law.
The court said that this approach was consistent with precedent applying to sentencing offenders of newly passed or applied laws.
Luze also pled for leniency in light of a clean record, his claim that most of the crimes were due to misunderstanding the rules and his status as a married father of three.