In order to win the fight against money laundering, terrorism and violent extremism, Caribbean states must work together to ensure there is a strong criminal justice system which is up-to-date and equipped with the necessary resources, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Patricia Scotland said yesterday.
“We have a duty to be vigilant guardians protecting the safety and well-being of all our people and ensuring that we have the capacity to safeguard our institutions in order to prevent them from being exploited…”, Scotland said during an address to judges and prosecutors attending the opening ceremony of a two-day workshop organized by Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat, Caribbean Development Bank and the Guyana Government.
The conference comes just days after Britain instructed its territories in the Caribbean – including CARICOM associate members – to open up their business registries to aid transparency and the fight against money-laundering.
Scotland stressed that the workshop presents an opportunity for professional practioners in this region to exchange ideas and learn from each other about “what works, what does not work, and to be alert about the emerging challenges and to plan and build together”. She noted that matters to be addressed were referred to in the 2018 communique of the just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting meeting where it was stressed that the territories need to work towards a more secure future.
She stated that if the region is to succeed in tackling crimes such as money laundering, attention must be given to “matching our responses to the rising incidents… continually to improve and innovate, strengthening our capabilities and our co-operation”.
According to Scotland, “this training programme is important for us all. There has never been a moment more important for us to come together and it comes at a really critical time …because the fourth round of AML/CFT assessment …will involve two inter-related components – technical compliance and effectiveness”. She added that the technical aspect focuses on whether the necessary laws and other required measures are in force and effective and whether the supporting institutional framework is in place.
She said the other component focuses on whether the systems in place are working and the extent to which nations are achieving the defined set of outcomes. According to Scotland, both components relate to the work being done by judges and prosecutors.
“It is a sad reality that terrorism and violent extremism continue as growing threats in Commonwealth countries”, she said while adding that while not all of the member countries suffer, financial institutions in particular of almost any country can be exploited by nefarious organizations to support programmes of hate and destruction.
The Secretary-General stressed that in order to stem the flow of illegal money and violent extremism, the region has to ensure that “we have the best and the most up to date legal and criminal justice tools available”.
She noted that many of the Caribbean nations face the same challenge but “rather than working separately, we can work together. We have been saying that we have two choices – we can either swim together or we can drown separately,”
Scotland said that the secretariat is committed to “working alongside member countries and partners to refine and continually raise AML/CFT standards. I think we can do this if we work together”.
Meanwhile Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Basil Williams who is the current Chairman of CFATF in his remarks stressed that the work of judges and prosecutors is crucial to consolidating stable and effective institutions, integrity, transparency and the rule of law, which are all pillars of an effective anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing system.
He said that the main objective of the workshop is to continue the outreach to the Prosecutorial Services and Criminal Justice System, which is an initiative by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) President, Santiago Otamendi of Argentina and one of the FATF Priorities for 2017-2018.
“This Workshop, the first of its kind to be held in our region seeks to provide a platform for gathering and sharing experiences, challenges and best practices in investigating and prosecuting money laundering and terrorist financing, as well as depriving criminals of their proceeds”, he said adding that while many Caribbean countries have enacted the necessary legislative measures to criminalise money laundering, as well as terrorist financing and proliferation financing, the overall rate of convictions and the confiscation of criminal proceeds have been “moderate”.
He stressed that if the global AML/CFT efforts are to be effective, it is absolutely necessary that countries also obtain convictions and pursue seizing and confiscating the proceeds and instrumentalities of crime for the benefit of States and victims. Additionally, he said Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), is an important element in the fight against extremists who seek to recruit, radicalise and mobilise their followers to commit acts of violence.
In the past, the CFATF in conjunction with the Commonwealth Secretariat has held programmes for Judges (in Jamaica, in 2012) and Prosecutors (in St. Lucia, in 2015). “Given the current focus during the fourth round of mutual evaluations on the effectiveness of AML/CFT systems and the crucial role it plays in the effective implementation of the FATF Standards, there was a need to have a renewed and enhanced engagement with the Regional Judicial and Prosecutorial Services”, he stressed.
President David Granger who also addressed the gathering stressed that because of the fragmented jurisdictions, the Caribbean has become an attractive destination for financial pirates, privateers, money-launderers and tax-evaders.
He said that present-day transnational, criminal cartels possess the means to corrupt public officials and the motivation to undermine the institutions which sustain the rule of law while present-day information communication technologies can facilitate the transfer of financial assets across borders at the speed of light. Illicit proceeds, he said “can contaminate the voluminous transactions which take place within our countries’ financial systems”.
According to Granger, Caribbean citizens, without the protection of the law, could become captive to slick organized crime. “The criminal justice systems of small states must be safeguarded from the subversion of organized crime”, he said while stressing that the rule of law must be a shield protecting citizens.
He said that Caribbean countries must be strengthened to protect their institutions against the threats of money-laundering and terrorist-financing. Granger pointed out that robust legislation and sturdy institutions are the “weapons in the war against financial crimes”.
Granger said that Guyana has strengthened several institutions such as the Bank of Guyana, the Financial Intelligence Unit and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, all of which have been empowered with the authority and autonomy and equipped with the technical resources and personnel to discharge their functions under the existing legislation.
“Guyana iterates its commitment to erecting an impregnable criminal justice system in its continued campaign to combat financial crimes”, he stressed.
According to Granger, small Caribbean states face limited human resources, technology and capital. “These constraints could impair the capability of law-enforcement agencies to combat transnational criminal cartels”, he said adding that intensified international collaboration could improve communication, co-operation and capacity-building.
The workshop, he noted, aims at facilitating the exchange of experiences and the sharing of best practices with regard to the investigation and prosecution of money-laundering and terrorist-financing crimes. It also recognizes the role that judges and prosecutors play within the institutional architecture for countering AML/CFT.
During the workshop participants will be exposed to information on several topics including investigative orders, Mutual Evaluation Reports and the prosecution and management of money laundering cases and also has a discussion segment. The workshop which is being held at the Pegasus Hotel ends today with a reception at State House.