Friday’s passing by the 11th Parliament of the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism bill established two important milestones. The first is that legislative potency has been restored after 11 months. Parliament works. The new government’s legislative agenda has set sail. After 42 months of the gridlock of the 10th Parliament and the unwillingness of the minority government to engage and compromise, the country can breathe a sigh of relief that vital legislation like the anti-money laundering bill can be passed and that the legislature can resume its integral role in government. It only now requires the opposition to take up its seats for there to be a grand opportunity for an energetic and conciliatory parliament with a robust legislative agenda. The need for national unity in confronting the reckless adventurism of Venezuela as evidenced by its maritime decree underlines the important role the 11th Parliament can play.
The other milestone is the legislation itself. Despite the presence of anti-money laundering legislation on the books in various forms over the last 15 years, it has been a source of much dismay and a sign of the infiltration of the drug trade that PPP/C governments signally failed to arrest, charge and successfully prosecute drug lords. Now imprisoned in the US, drug lord Roger Khan ran circles around law enforcement here and prosecuted his private trade and vendettas. Over several years, the PPP/C operated as if it was oblivious to Khan’s drug trade. It pretended as if it didn’t know and history will record that the party and government appeared more open to the absorption of ill-gotten gains into the economy rather than drawing a line in the sand and making drug traffickers and money launderers uncomfortable and fearful of the long arm of the law.
On the other side of the House, the APNU+AFC government has created high expectations by its frequent and voluble protestations while in opposition about the scourge of the drug trade and money laundering. The people want to see tangible evidence that this administration will get serious on laundering and its associated ills. Perhaps one of the initial subjects of interest of the transformed anti-money laundering architecture should be the holdings here of those who have been convicted in foreign jurisdictions for laundering and drug trafficking.
The public will keenly watch how the provisions of this bill will be rolled out once it has been signed into law by President Granger and a commencement date for the Act assigned. Given the gruelling rounds that Guyana has had with the global financial watchdog, the Act should be immediately submitted to the Financial Action Task Force for verification that it is fully compliant with international requirements and will relieve Guyana of the spectre of financial sanctions and the actual rise in costs for a variety of transactions.
Hopefully, the provisions of this law, in tandem with heightened cooperation with international partners will yield prosecutions of the proverbial ‘big fish’ in the drug trade and thereby help to minimize gangland killings, the trade in illegal weapons and the growing abuse of drugs here. Last week’s interception in New York of a shipment of prawns from Guyana with a large amount of cocaine stashed within will provide an early test for the new government and the authorities under its control. There must be a wealth of leads in this case and a paper trail leading in the direction of those behind the shipment. The true test of government’s intent and the maturing of investigative skills here would be whether charges are preferred against those involved in this trade.
The provisions of the bill passed on Friday should be widely publicized by the government as they will be of great importance to persons who are unaware that they can now flash up on the radar of the authorities. Beneficial ownership, according to Clause Two refers to a person or persons who exercise individually or jointly voting rights to at least 25% of a legal entity. The definition of currency under the same clause is now expanded to cover promissory notes or any other negotiable instruments. “Proceeds of crime” has been supplemented by the addition of the words “and indirect proceeds of crime including income, profits or other benefits from proceeds of crime and property held by any other person and assets of every kind whether tangible or intangible”.
Property is now defined in Clause 2 to include “money, investments, holdings, legal documents or instruments in any form, including electronic or digital, evidencing title to or interests in assets of every kind, all possessions, assets and all other property movable or immovable, tangible or intangible, including a chose in action and any other property wherever situated whether in Guyana or elsewhere and includes any interest in such property and includes indirect proceeds of crime including income, profits or other benefits from proceeds of crime and property held by any other person and assets of every kind, whether tangible or intangible”.
A key facet of the bill which had been opposed by the PPP/C is the appointment of an authority which aims to supervise and ensure that the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) conducts its work properly. Appointments to this authority and the manner of its interaction with the FIU will be closely watched. So too will be the manner of the appointments of the Head and Deputy of the FIU by Parliament’s appointive committee.
Clause 9 will begin having early repercussions for the public as it requires reporting entities such as banks not to open new accounts or begin relationships with suspicious persons. Clause 10 also requires reporting entities to undertake enhanced due diligence for higher-risk categories of persons.
Significantly, in this cash-based economy, Clause 17 creates a new section where a police officer, a customs officer or a person authorized by the Director of the FIU may seize or detain cash anywhere in Guyana where the amount is over $10m and where there is reasonable suspicion that the currency pertains to a serious offence or is connected to money laundering or the financing of terrorism. Consequential amendments have been made to a whole series of other acts.
This first piece of legislation will be a key benchmark for scrutinizing the new government’s legislative agenda and whether it is serious about enforcement as opposed to enactment purely for the purposes of appearing to meet external requirements.