More than two years after the new Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Terrorism law was enacted, it is still not clear what work the lead agency under the Act—the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU)—has been doing as there has been no known case brought by it against anyone during that period.
Even President Bharrat Jagdeo appeared upset last year about the fact that there have been no court proceedings brought by the unit and he had publicly expressed his displeasure. While there has been one money laundering conviction, arising out of a case in the UK and which had the assistance of Scotland Yard, that court action was initiated by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the conviction has since been overturned by the High Court.
Since the new act came into effect, there have been several advertisements in the newspaper for various positions at the FIU, but apart from that and the commercial banks implementing the proof of address requirement for its customers as is required under the law, the work of the unit remains unknown.
Director of the unit Paul Geer, with whom Stabroek News has repeatedly sought an interview since last year, in a brief telephone conversation indicated that because the unit is intelligence-driven, he could not speak to the press on its work. Pressed about whether the unit has been implementing the requirements under the act, Geer responded in the affirmative but said he could not go into details. He indicated that the unit has been working and was never a “one man unit” as some persons had said in the past. He said following the passing of the new act, new staff members have been hired and the unit now has a new office but he could not disclose the location. Geer later promised that he would do an interview with this newspaper but weeks of attempting to get him have yielded no success. Attempts to speak to Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh have also been unsuccessful.
Clause 110 of the Act states that as soon as practicable but not later than six months after the expiry of the financial year, the director of the FIU is to submit to the minister responsible for finance, an annual report by the FIU for that financial year. It also stipulates that the report shall comprise information on the financial affairs, operations and performance of the FIU, including the amounts paid into the Consolidated Fund under the act. Also, the minister shall cause a copy of the report together with the annual statements of accounts and the Auditor General’s report to be laid before the National Assembly, within one month of receiving it, the legislation stipulates.
It is still not clear whether this has been done.
Alliance For Change (AFC) leader Raphael Trotman says he is also unclear about the work of the unit. “…My presumption is that little or nothing was done since the new act has come into force. The reason being that the government lacked the will do anything relating to the gathering of and taking action on financial intelligence under the old regime and so merely passing a new act, didn’t breathe life into an unwilling government,” Trotman told Stabroek News in a brief interview.
Trotman said the PPP government is good at “appearing busy and democratic with countless bills, but does very badly with implementation and enforcement.”
However, he said that it is all about appearance that something is being done on the part of the government, while adding that “laws don’t end crimes, enforcement does.” Early last year, Jagdeo had said that he was “not very happy” that no one had been prosecuted under the old and new anti-money laundering laws but had said that the FIU was working.
He had expressed his displeasure with the head of the unit in 2009, when he indicated that there had not been a single case. He had noted the unit has the authority to request any information and “they should be doing that and making the case.”
The President had also said the unit had done some work on financial flows and assessments of assets, but he could not disclose more. “I’ve seen a few reports, so to be fair I need to say that they have done this and I know that they’re in collaboration with external agencies but by the very nature of these issues you can’t speak all about it,” he had said. “But I think we need to move to actually (prosecute) because that was the purpose of this legislation…to go after assets that people accumulate from criminal proceeds and that they build up so that’s very important,” he added.
A less severe law was on the books for years but not a single charge was also brought under it. During this period both Roger Khan and Peter Morgan, who have since pleaded guilty to drug charges in the US, operated here. Neither was charged with any type of money laundering or drug offence here.
The new law provides for oversight of the export and insurance industries, real estate, and alternative remittance systems, and sets forth the penalties for non-compliance. It also establishes FIU as an independent body that answers only to the president and defines in detail its role and powers.
The new law at the time of its passing was believed to be a significant improvement on previous anti-money laundering legislation and covers, among other things, the freezing and forfeiture of assets owned or controlled by persons suspected of engaging in money laundering activities.
It provides for the unlawful proceeds of all serious offences to be identified, traced, frozen, and forfeited. It also provides for comprehensive powers for the prosecution of money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes and the forfeiture of the proceeds of crime and terrorist property. Included are provisions requiring reporting entities to take preventative measures to help combat money laundering and terrorist financing and it also provides for the civil forfeiture of assets and “for matters connected therewith”.