CFATF assessment finds unified approach, resources to tackle money laundering lacking in Guyana

The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) has identified several areas that Guyana needs to address to bolster its money laundering and combatting terrorism fight, key among them is equipping the Ministry of Home Affairs with the resources needed.

CFATF, in its just-concluded on-site assessment of Guyana’s compliance with the Financial Action Task Force Recommendations and Methodology, cited the need for a unified approach among agencies. And given the dismal rate of convictions for money laundering crimes, the body believes that delays in administration of cases possibly contribute to this.

Of key note in the findings, was that the Ministry of Home Affairs lacks requisite resources needed to effectively participate in combatting the financial crime, an observation that the government said it noted and will address when it receives the full report.

“There is also a need for a unified approach in tackling money laundering by the various law enforcement agencies, … it was seen that Guyana was investigating money laundering and associated serious offence cases in line with the country’s risk assessment; however, the delay in the administration of cases may have contributed to the current low conviction rate for money laundering,” a summary of the initial findings presented to Attorney General Anil Nandall SC by the Anti-money Laundering/ Countering the Financing of Terrorism/Proliferation Financing National Coordination Committee (NCC) stated.

The Attorney General’s Chambers said that CFATF was, nonetheless, satisfied with the strides this country was making in order to bring itself into compliance.

Within six weeks of the completion of their onsite visit, a preliminary Mutual Evaluation report from the body will be sent for Guyana’s review and input.

Upon that review, and the conclusion of those engagements, a final evaluation report will be concluded and submitted to the plenary.

Nandlall said that this country intends to act on the findings of the report and will take corrective measures where gaps have been identified.

“For all the issues identified, we will write them on each to specifically request further and better particulars and greater specificity, so that we can effectively and effectually address those shortcomings in a successful manner,” Nandlall yesterday told the Stabroek News when contacted.

During the visit by the CFATF team, a number of government ministries, law enforcement agencies, state agencies, financial institutions, as well as private sector and professional organisations, were engaged.

“From all indications, Guyana as a jurisdiction, acquitted itself favourably and received much plaudit during the exercise,” the statement said.

“The initial high-level findings found that Guyana has good coordination for the identification and mitigation of money laundering/terrorist financing risks through the NCC. It also acknowledged the risk assessments Guyana has concluded, including the 2021 National Risk Assessment, and its wide dissemination among stakeholders. The support of these actions through the National Policy and Strategy were also examined, and found to be acceptable due to the completion of a number of policy items, such as amendments to key AML/CFT related legislation, the legislative creation of the Guyana Compliance Com-mission and the Real Estate Agents’ Authority, and the codification of the Special Branch Anti-Terrorism Task Force,” it added.

With regard to supervisory authorities, the statement said that the initial findings were that most of the agencies interfaced with demonstrated a risk-based approach, as well as the use of preventative measures.

The team also noted the role that the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) plays in providing guidance for supervisory authorities.

But of shortcomings, the preliminary report noted that there “is the need for Attorneys-at-Law and Accountants to fully understand their AML/CFT obligations, which is particularly important with the Guyana Compliance Commission law being passed.”

With regard to international cooperation, the team found that there was a need for “increased resources for the Treaty Office Ministry of Home Affairs to effectively carry out its functions.”

Nandlall told this newspaper that the government has to await the final report to see what areas were highlighted for strengthening at the MoH, and assured that these will be positively addressed.

However, Guyana has demonstrated the ability to use formal and informal mechanisms for international cooperation, particularly through its regional mechanisms such as the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network for the Caribbean (ARIN-CARIB) and the Regional Security System (RSS).

In terms of targeted financial sanctions for terrorism financing and proliferation financing, the statement said the team noted that the recent 2023 amendments have cured some of the technical deficiencies; nevertheless, due to the recent passage of the laws there may be a need to revise internal procedures in the implementation of such.

“The Assessment Team reminded Guyana that these findings may be changed upon further review of information submitted, which will be further assessed; however, no new measures after 15th September 2023 will be considered,” the statement said.

The statement said that the Assessment Team thanked Guyana for its hospitality, and informed the NCC that the final discussions with regard to the 4th Round Mutual Evaluation of Guyana is due to be concluded in May/June 2024 at the CFATF Plenary, which will be held in Trinidad and Tobago.

Nandlall had told this newspaper that three draft pieces of legislation, aiming to strengthen this country’s regulatory architecture, would be presented to the National Assembly by the end of this year.

“Over the past two years, Guyana has been preparing its financial system for this assessment. This involved strengthening of the entire Anti-Money Laundering/ Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework, incorporating updated recommendations coming from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and CFATF as well as enacting new legislation to address identified deficiencies,” he had said in May. 

He had listed the Anti-Money Laundering Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2023; the Compliance Commission Bill 2023 and the Real Estate Agents and Brokers Bill 2023, as the three respective draft bills to be laid soon. The Real Estate Agents and Brokers Bill 2023 was passed on August 3.

Nandlall said that the Government of Guyana is committed to doing all that is required to ensure that we have a robust, transparent and accountable legal and administrative AML/CFT framework, one that could withstand objective professional scrutiny.

To this end, he said the government has been “consulting with agencies and personnel across the region and soliciting their guidance and assistance. We are leaving no stone unturned. This process will continue in order to ensure that Guyana’s impending assessment is successful.”

Giving an insight to the purposes of the proposed legislation, he explained the AML/CTF Amendment bill is intended to update the principal, correct identified deficiencies as well as add new processes which were not adequately provided for before.

“In this regard, the Attorney General’s Chambers and Ministry of Legal Affairs collaborated with the Regional Security System’s (RSS) Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) and adopted certain key and critical recommendations which the RSS ARU made to improve our forfeiture and asset recovery capabilities in the legislation,” Nandlall stated.

He continued, “Related recommendations were also received from the judiciary after they participated in a symposium on forfeiture of assets from proceeds of crime conducted earlier this year by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), United States at the Marriott Hotel, Georgetown.”

As it relates to the Compliance Commission Bill, he stressed that it was crucial to the enhancement of the current AML/CFT framework. “It creates a permanent commission that will act as a supervisory authority over a number of sectors within the financial landscape that are currently unsupervised as there exists no appropriate authority to do so in the current matrix,” the Attorney General contended.