Guyana’s admission to world body of financial intelligence units hinged on anti-laundering bill

The acceptance of Guyana’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) into the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units is hinged on the passing of the Anti-Money Laundering Coun-tering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Amendment) Bills, says its head, Paul Geer.

As a result of not passing the bill Guyana has been found insufficiently compliant with the standards of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force’s (CFATF) standards for money laundering and terrorism financing regulations.

Following Guyana’s assessment last month, CFATF advised its 35 members to take countermeasures against Guyana to protect their territories and the wider international financial system from any money laundering or financing of terrorism that may be emanating from Guyana.

Such countermeasures are likely to affect investment and business in Guyana, but CFATF’s decision is also a signal that Guyana’s application to join the Egmont Group will not be favourably considered anytime soon.

The Egmont Group of FIUs, formed in 1995, is an informal network of FIUs created for the purpose of stimulating international cooperation and enhancing support to governments around the world in their fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Pursuant to this goal the Group meets regularly to promote the development of FIUs around the world, and to cooperate especially in the areas of information exchange, training, and the sharing of expertise.

This support includes “the provision of intelligence information; increasing the effectiveness of FIUs by offering training and personal exchanges to improve the expertise and capabilities of personnel employed by FIUs; fostering better and secure communication among FIUs through the application of technology, currently via the Egmont Secure Web (ESW); and promoting the establishment of FIU’s in jurisdictions without a national anti-money laundering/financing of terrorism program in place, or in areas with a program in the first stages of development.”

Geer told Stabroek News yesterday that Guyana’s FIU applied to the Group early last year, and that though the application is being processed it has not progressed very far. He is also arguing that it is not likely to proceed any further unless the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill is passed. Currently, the bill continues to engage the attention of a select committee and it is unclear when it will be taken back to the National Assembly for the Members of Parliament to, again, vote on whether or not it will be passed.

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has proposed amendments to the AML/CFT Principal Act which it insists must be taken back to the National Assembly and passed with the amendment bill. The coalition also demands that the president sign four bills he had refused same. Meanwhile, the Alliance for Change (AFC) is calling for the setting up of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).

President Donald Ramotar though, following CFATF’s decision last month, has called for the parties’ unconditional support of the bill once it makes its way back to the National Assembly. Simply put, gridlock abounds.

Stages preceding acceptance

The route of acceptance into the Group must be initiated by an expression of interest by a territory’s FIU to the Egmont Group Secretariat (EGS). An FIU’s application comprises of a letter requesting membership, copies of the territory’s AML/CFT legislation, and other relevant documentation pertaining to and general information of the FIU.

In the second stage, two members of the Egmont Group are identified to serve as sponsors for the applicant FIU. According to the Groups site, “the EGS will submit the applicant’s expression of interest documents to the Chair of the Outreach Working Group (OWG) and the Egmont Regional Representative(s) for the geographical region in which the applicant FIU is located. They will discuss the options and identify two Sponsor FIU’s, in consultation with the applicant FIU.”

Next comes the monitoring phase, where the identified sponsors initiate close monitoring in consultation with the applicant FIU. This may include the collection of basic information such as additional contact details and confirmation of levels of interest from the Unit or jurisdiction. It may also include the provision of technical advice to the applicant FIU.

The fourth stage includes preparation for onsite visits by sponsors. The onsite visit is considered crucial for the confirmation of the operational status of the applicant FIU. In preparing for the onsite visit, Egmont will submit the Legal Working Group (LWG) questionnaire to the applicant FIU. The questionnaire needs to be finalised and returned within a week following the visit.

The fifth stage is the final onsite visit, after which the sponsors will determine if the applicant FIU has been consistently complying with the Egmont Group criteria. The visit will also allow the sponsors to confirm the operational status of the applicant FIU.

In the sixth stage, the latest OWG Onsite Assessment Report, the final completed Egmont Group questionnaire, and the relevant legislation and other documents will be provided to the Chairs and members of the OWG and the LWG which will discuss the applicant during the next session of meetings to determine whether the applicant FIU is ready to be recommended for admission to the Egmont Group.

In the seventh stage the applicant, if recommended by its sponsors, will receive an invite to attend the Egmont Group’s Annual Plenary as an observer or candidate FIU. An invitation as an observer is seen as encouragement to the applicant FIU to continue pursuing membership with the Egmont Group. The applicant will be able to attend any scheduled training open at the annual plenary session, but will not have access to the working groups and the heads of FIUs meetings.

The observer status is not permanent though, and should not be seen as a guarantee that of membership approval.

Invitation to attend as a candidate indicates that the nomination of the applicant will be discussed by the heads of FIUs during that plenary period. If the heads agree to accept the applicant FIU as a new Egmont member, it will be able to participate in the remainder of the heads of FIU meetings as a full Egmont member. If there is no agreement however, the membership decision is postponed until the next annual plenary. Further assistance and monitoring will then take place over the period until the next plenary.

The final stage is acceptance. This happens where the FIUs’ heads endorse the applicant FIU’s membership recommendation. The acceptance will become effective upon the applying FIU’s commitment in writing to the Egmont Charter.

As of 2013, there were approximately 132 members of the group. Trinidad and Tobago’s FIU, St Lucia’s Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA), and St Vincent and the Grenadines’ FIU are among Guyana’s FIU’s Caribbean counterparts that were successful in their bids to join the group.

Venezuela’s Unidad Nacional de Inteligencia Financiera (UNIF) and Uruguay’s Unidad de Información y Análisis Financiero (UIAF) are some South American members, joining international names, including the United States’ Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and the United Kingdom’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).



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