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US Treasury employee accused of leaking bank records involving Paul Manafort and Rick Gates

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards is accused of leaking confidential bank records to a journalist starting in 2017; the reporter and the news organisation are not identified, but the articles cited by prosecutors were written by journalists at BuzzFeed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 5:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 6:08am

A senior Treasury Department employee was charged with leaking confidential bank records pertaining to suspicious transactions involving Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, the Russian embassy and Maria Butina, who has been accused of being a Russian agent.

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior adviser at the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, which targets illicit use of the US financial system, was arrested on Tuesday and accused of leaking suspicious activity reports (SARs) to a journalist starting in 2017 and continuing until this week.

The reporter and the news organisation are not identified, but the articles cited by prosecutors were written by journalists at BuzzFeed – the most recent having been published on Monday.

BuzzFeed declined to comment on the arrest. Edwards’s lawyer, Peter D. Greenspun, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The case marks another effort by US officials to crack down on leaks to the news media of non-public information.

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A senior Treasury Department official who asked not to be identified said that the investigation was intended to signal the department’s intent to punish violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, and that incidents involving unauthorised disclosure of protected information would not be left unresolved.

Others may also be in legal peril. Prosecutors said Edwards’s boss, who is not named, also communicated with the reporter and they identify the person as a co-conspirator.

The government also hinted at how a case might be pursued against the reporter.

In a brief snippet of the 18-page complaint, prosecutors say Edwards looked for records “at Reporter-1’s request” and they quote the journalist suggesting names she could search. That could make the reporter complicit in the crime.

US President Donald Trump, in postings on Twitter, has railed against leakers in his administration.

Edwards’s prosecution echoes, most recently, that of Reality Winner, an employee of a military contractor, who sent classified information about Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election, to The Intercept, an investigative digital publication.

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Edwards appeared in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday, where magistrate judge Theresa Buchanan said she could remain free pending trial.

The judge set several conditions for Edwards’s release, including barring her from contact with the reporter referred to in the criminal complaint or any FinCEN employee outside the presence of her lawyer. Her lawyer did not comment after the hearing.

Under the Bank Secrecy Act, financial institutions are required to report suspicious transactions to the Treasury – such as payments of more than US$10,000, or those made to people and entities who are blacklisted by the Treasury Department.

The filings are confidential, and unauthorised disclosures are a criminal offence.

Edwards began communicating with the unidentified reporter in July 2017, according to prosecutors.

Between October 2017 and January 2018, she saved thousands of FinCEN files, including all the SARs cited in the case.

The news site published 12 articles based on the disclosures, prosecutors say.

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When she was arrested on Tuesday, Edwards had a flash drive on which she apparently saved the SARs, as well as a phone containing communications over an encrypted application in which she transmitted the reports to the reporter, US Attorney Geoffrey Berman in New York said in a statement.

Edwards confessed to leaking the SARs to the reporter when questioned by investigators, although she “falsely denied” knowing that the material was going to be published, according to the complaint.

She allegedly told agents she was a “whistle-blower” who provided the SARs to the reporter for “record keeping”. Prosecutors said she had previously filed a whistle-blower complaint in a separate matter.

The transaction reports leaked to the news organisation pertained to payments involving Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman; Gates, Manafort’s business partner and deputy Trump campaign manager; and transactions involving a Russian company called Prevezon that was tied to laundered funds used to purchase New York real estate.

Manafort was convicted in August of tax fraud and bank fraud. Gates pleaded guilty and testified against him.

The SARs listed in the charges Wednesday are not the only ones that appear to have made their way into the public sphere.

In May, Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, also known as the porn star Stormy Daniels, released a summary of information about bank transfers involving Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.

The records showed hundreds of thousands of dollars moving from companies including Novartis and a firm tied to a wealthy Russian, to a shell company that Cohen had set up to handle payments to Clifford.