(Trinidad Guardian) Republic Bank has alerted the Trinidad Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to the suspicious transactions of a senior government official. The bank, sources say, raised a “red flag” after the official paid off two million-dollar mortgages within a six-month time frame. One of the mortgages was for a property purchased through the official’s private company in 2010 valued at TT$1.75 million, while the other was for a property purchased in September 2011 at a cost of TT$3.3 million.
The bank initially started its own investigation late last year after discovering the mortgages were fully paid off. Bank officials noticed that apart from the monthly payments, the government official was also making payments on a daily basis towards the mortgages. The daily payments, sources say, were close to TT$42,000 and were paid at different banks throughout the country. Banking officials, however, say there is a TT$60,000 per day limit on the amount of money which can be deposited in personal accounts.
“Anything higher than this, individuals will have to declare a source of funds,” the banking official, who did not want to be named, told the Sunday Guardian.
According to banking regulations issued by the Central Bank, and under the heading large/suspicious transaction records, “financial institutions should review and properly document the background and purpose of all complex, unusual, or large transactions…every financial institution which receives cash, bank cheques, drafts, money orders or traveller’s cheques in an amount in excess of the threshold shall keep and retain a large transaction record…”
Following investigations by Republic Bank, it was discovered that the government official also has accounts with other banking institutions. However, no money was withdrawn during the said period in which the daily deposits to Republic were made on the mortgage accounts. It was after this internal probe was completed that Republic Bank alerted the FIU of the transactions.
In response to questions from the Sunday Guardian on the matter, Republic Bank, through its Corporate Communications and Marketing Department, said in a statement, “We are unable to reveal actual bank procedures. However, and as you would imagine, we cannot comment on any transactions which might or might not have occurred.
“The bank is guided by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2009 in identifying and reporting transactions which might be considered suspicious based on descriptions provided by Section 55 of the act.” The FIU, in a release in response to questions as to whether a report was made to them by Republic Bank, said such disclosures are confidential, adding should they be made public it would breach sections 21 and 24 of the FIU Act.
The intelligence unit is headed by Susan Francois, while Nigel Stoddard is its deputy director. Asked specifically whether the government official is currently being probed, the FIU said: “The subject of a suspicious transaction activity/reports (STR/SAR) is confidential information. The FIU cannot disclose the person who is the subject of a STR/SAR.
“The FIU cannot disclose whether it has sent an intelligence report to law enforcement agencies (LEA) for their investigation, or whether an investigation has commenced on an individual or legal entity.” The release further said should such confidences be breached, an FIU officer would face the penalty of a fine of $250,000 and three years’ imprisonment.
Last August, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said some 300 reports involving suspicious-activity transactions were made to the FIU. He was speaking in the Senate on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Financial Intelligence Unit of Trinidad and Tobago and Anti-Terrorism) Bill 2012.