Guyana earns further reprieve over anti-laundering bill

No further action was recommended yesterday against Guyana by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) over the stalled anti-money laundering bill following the conclusion of its plenary in Paris, France.

This was relayed to Stabroek News yesterday by Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) advisor Roger Hernandez.

This means that May – when the CFATF meets – will be the next critical period for the government and the opposition to resolve deep differences over the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) (AML/ CFT) Bill.

The government had issued dire warnings about the possible outcome of the Paris meeting and has been pressing the opposition for a speedy agreement on the bill. This agreement is still elusive following last-minute amendments to the proposed legislation tabled by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and will now likely see further drawn-out discussions as the government is strongly opposed to these.

Speaking with Stabroek News from Trinidad yesterday, Financial Advisor to the CFATF Roger Hernandez, said that although Guyana was one of two countries before the FATF plenary it was decided that progress was being made and Guyana would remain on the list of countries to be reviewed. He also noted that following the recommendations of the CFATF, which is currently monitoring Guyana and placed it on a regional public sanctions list, the country may not even be recommend for a review by the FATF in June.

Hernandez stated that “the FATF decided to leave Guyana in the pool until June…the CFATF will meet in May and will review the progress being made”. He acknowledged that since Guyana was regionally placed on the full public sanction list there have been complaints that businesses have had issues with financial dealings with Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. He said that although Guyana was regionally “blacklisted” in November last year, with CFATF asking its 29 other members to ensure that “active counter measures are taken prior to dealing with financial institutions” in Guyana, the three major Western powers have also decided to be cautious.

He noted that all three western powers have taken to sending delegations to the CFATF meetings in the past and have a vested interest. Hernandez did also state that technical and aid-driven organizations have also been warned against Guyana. He said that if Guyana is to apply for aid those organizations will take the CFATF’s November recommendations into consideration.

Hernandez noted that the CFATF is not concerned with getting involved in Guyana’s legislative process. He said that the planned telecommunications conference scheduled for next Wednesday is at the behest of the Special Select Committee charged with reviewing the (AML/CFT).

He state that he could not comment on the meeting, however he did say that the CFAFT’s role was to clarify issues for the committee. At the last meeting of the select committee on Wednesday it was decided that a teleconference would be sought with CFATF to clarify requirements for the bill.

Meanwhile APNU MP and select committee member, Joseph Harmon, told Stabroek News that the committee needs to finalize the amendments to the Principal Act. He said that there needed to be clarification in the public domain after Attorney General Anil Nandlall misconstrued some of the proposed  amendments.

Harmon stated that “what the AG is not saying is that these amendments are still being discussed we are still working out things in these meetings…the fact is that section 67 of the Act deals with senior police officers, senior, customs officers and FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit) officers, then Section 37 of the Principal Act deals with seizure of laundered monies seized internally.”

Harmon clarified that in no way do the amendments aim to have ordinary citizens stripped of their cash as they walk the streets of Guyana. He stated that under Section 37 of the Act, senior officials are given the power to seize money in excess of US$10,000 once it was not declared at the airport with just cause. He said that given Guyana’s porous borders APNU would like the legislation broadened internally, but in no way is it intended to mean that any officer could seize from a citizen, walking down the street, cash in excess of $2 million.

The Attorney General had charged in a television interview that APNU’s amendments sought to give the police the power to stop and search persons and if an excessive amount of money and jewellery was found it could be seized.  This argument was also made yesterday by the Chair of the Committee, PPP/C MP Gail Teixeira at a press conference at the Office of the President. Harmon told Stabroek News “the attorney general has seized upon that to scare people when we get to the final draft we will arrive at a much higher figure…money launderers don’t deal with $2 million, they are dealing with much larger figures.”

Harmon noted that in Guyana’s cash-based economy it would not be unusual for persons to be in the possession of $2 million, he called the attorney general’s remarks on the National Communication Network “careless and simply malicious”, continuing that the PPP/C’s members of the Special Select Committee were being dishonest in their public declarations.

For the past 10 months the committee has deliberated on the amendments to the AML/CFT bill. On Sunday APNU produced two proposals for the Principal Act which were to be transformed into legislative script, however this failed to happen on two occasions leading to the meeting once again being adjourned on Wednesday night.

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