The National Assembly last Friday passed a bill that will give prosecutors more time to institute charges under the anti-money laundering legislation.
Once the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2017 is enacted, Attorney General Basil Williams SC said money laundering would be redefined as a “hybrid,” offence, giving prosecutors the option of pursuing charges either summarily or indictably. Under the latter option, Williams explained, there is no time limit for when charges can be instituted.
The bill was passed after a few objections by the parliamentary opposition.
Williams, who tabled the bill, told the National Assembly that it seeks to amend the principal Act.
Clause 2 of the bill, he noted, amends Section 3 (6) of the Act, by substituting a new subsection (6) to make the offence of money laundering a hybrid offence. Prior to the amendment, he explained, a prosecutor could only institute proceedings in the magistrate’s court within six months of the offence being committed. The time limit provided for summary offences does not, however, apply to indictable offences.
As it relates to instituting proceedings, he said the prosecutor would have a longer time as no limitation for the indictable offence of money laundering is provided for by the statute. “This amendment is important because more time would be given to the relevant personnel to conduct their investigations and prepare their case, especially if the matter is a complex one,” he said.
Williams later stressed that the sentencing and the fines proposed in the amendments are proportionate and will also serve as a deterrent to those wanting to commit money laundering crimes.
Opposition PPP/C parliamentarian Anil Nandlall, in a brief address, questioned what inspired the amendment.
“I get the impression and I am persuaded more so…that this bill seeks to treat with a particular factual situation …that we are attempting to increase the period of time within which to bring criminal charges,” he said.
“It has penal sanctions, which will result in us falling into error,” he further warned, while suggesting that it has implications for constitutional freedoms.
Williams, in response, said there is no question of retrospectivity. “This is simply an amendment to enable investigations,” he said, before adding that it bars the criminals from escaping once the six month-period has elapsed.
Williams noted that in some of the complex cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions has found that investigators were unable to complete investigations within the six months period for summary offences “and it’s clear that one would require a longer period and that is why the section was amended to create a hybrid offence.”
According to the amendment bill, the new subsection (6) (a) (i) states that a person on summary conviction shall be liable to a fine of not less than $5 million nor more than $100 million and to imprisonment for seven years; or (ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine of not less than $10 million nor more than $120 million and to imprisonment for ten years.
It goes further to state in the new subsection (6) (b) that (i) a body corporate on summary conviction shall be liable to a fine of not less than $200 million nor more than $500 million; or (ii) on conviction on indictment a fine of not less than $220 million and not more than $520 million.