Underreporting on suspicious activity makes case for APNU amendments, Harmon says

The Donald Ramotar administration is still not sold on APNU’s proposed amendments to anti-money laundering laws, which the main opposition argues are justified by the failure of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to file more than a single report on suspicious activity in  five years.

At a briefing held yesterday at the National Communications Network studios, government members of the parliamentary select committee charged with revising the legislation maintained their no compromise stance on the APNU amendments, even as they skirted around questions about the lack of prosecutions under the current law.

Although the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 provides for the FIU to report to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) suspicious transactions, once there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the transaction involves money laundering, proceeds of crime or terrorist financing, DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack has said only one such report has been received. In a letter published in Monday’s edition of the Stabroek News, Ali-Hack said the FIU sent one such report, via a letter dated December 21, 2011 from the Director of the FIU and she responded, indicating that the information contained in the report was insufficient and requested that documents and statements in support of the information in the report be provided to the DPP. To date, she said the DPP has not received any response.

But Presidential advisor and Chairperson of the select committee Gail Teixeira stated that across the Caribbean region there has not been any prosecutions of money launders. Teixeira also stated that privacy laws in other countries had prevented the access of information in the past. “Before this Act came in, as suspicious transactions were being looked at you were suddenly confronted by the privacy laws and the banking laws of other countries,” she asserted.

She noted that the Carib-bean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have worked for the past decade to ensure that information was made more accessible but she added that it was still a work in progress.

Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh, also a member of the committee, noted that in 2009 the Act was supported unanimously by the House and he called it a strong piece of legalisation. “Relatively speaking, the 2009 Act did represent relatively strong legislation notwithstanding the identification of a few areas for further strengthening,” he contended.

Singh added that the establishment of the FIU was done to promote the balance needed in fighting money laundering. He added that the issuance of guidelines and regulations, the development of institutional capabilities, the introduction of protocols for submission of identification of suspicious transactions, and the appointment of supervisory authorities over the various classes of reporting entities were also done since the 2009 Act. He said that it was not fair to say that since 2009 there has not been proper enforcement.

Guyana has not had a single prosecution of a suspected money-laundering since 2002, two years after the passing of the Money Laundering (Prevention) Act 2000.

Meanwhile, APNU executive member Joseph Harmon said at a press conference yesterday that Ali-Hack’s revelation about the FIU’s single report highlighted the agency’s lack of both the resources and the discipline needed to conduct the work it was charged to do.

“It is my belief that the CFATF recommendations began to kick in [and] at that time they just want to show that they were doing something so they sent off this letter to the DPP and she said, ‘This is all that y’all got? Well you got to give me more information.’”

Harmon stated that the severe underreporting of suspected activity has showcased the FIU’s inability. He said, “One of the recommendations we made was about strengthening the FIU and to put an authority over it so we can have a clear direction and clear work coming from the FIU.”

At the government press briefing, Attorney General Anil Nandlall said that no other FIU across the English-speaking Com-monwealth was assembled as part of the legislative process as APNU is proposing and he emphasised that it was the executive branch of government that was responsible for the formation of such bodies.

Nandlall stated that since the executive ultimately had to answer to CFATF and other international bodies on Guyana’s progress in fighting money launderers, it was the executive that had to make the final decisions on the FIU.

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