Sunday, May 11, 2008

Money laundering law in two months – Jagdeo

Money laundering law in two months – Jagdeo
Stabroek News news article. Sunday 11 May 2008

- despite inactive committee

President Bharrat Jagdeo said money-laundering legislation – sent to a Select Committee since June 2007 – would be passed in the next two months despite the fact that the committee has done nothing in the past year since the bill was sent there for deliberation.
Since its formation, the committee met only once and it was a procedural meeting to elect a chairman – Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh.
The Anti Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Bill tabled in 2007 provides for oversight of the export and insurance industries, real estate, and alternative remittance systems, and sets forth the penalties for non-compliance. It also establishes the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) as an independent body that answers only to the President, and defines in detail its role and powers.
The Bill is believed to be a significant improvement on previous anti-money laundering legislation and covers, among other things, the freezing and forfeiture of assets owned or controlled by persons suspected of engaging in money laundering activities.
The legislation seeks also to strengthen the FIU by giving it broader responsibilities.
Jagdeo at a recent press briefing said it was government’s intention to move forward with the legislation but in a way that facilitated Guyana becoming an offshore financial centre (OFC).
In February, Singh chaired a meeting of senior government officials and representatives of the Guyana Association of Bankers to discuss the potential for cooperating to facilitate the development of Guyana as an OFC.
OFCs exist to provide financial services such as banking, insurance and asset management to mainly non-resident individuals and entities. They generally offer to investors, distinct benefits including favourable tax and regulatory regimes, and the ability to make deposits in foreign currencies.
Singh said there had been a number of issues that impeded the work of the committee but the bill would be consulted upon and passed. The chairman of the committee, said considerable technical work on the various parts of the bill, which he referred to as complex, had been done outside the work of the Select Committee. But he said the committee was now gearing itself to receive submissions on the Bill from various stakeholder groups.
An opposition member of the Select Committee, Raphael Trotman, said that for the government to say it was now looking to see that the money laundering legislation did not conflict with Guyana’s becoming an OFC showed a lack of policy and planning on its part. He said it was clear that someone just got the idea and the government was trying to tailor the money laundering legislation to suit.
Trotman said the committee’s lack of progress was just another example of the government making a mockery of the parliamentary process. “Nothing has been done. We were only given copies of the legislation. The government is not treating the Parliament with the respect and authority is deserves. Bills are laid and not pursued diligently. [Others] are laid, passed and then not approved. Bills are laid and then withdrawn, as seen on Thursday with the piracy bill,” Trotman said.
Expressing disgust, Trotman said there had been no word on the work of the FIU as regards investigating money laundering. He opined that bills were only passed speedily when teams from the World Bank, the IMF or some other institution came to Guyana.
Trotman is fearful that the money laundering bill may befall the same fate as the old Money Laundering Prevention Act which he said languished for years before being passed and was now found to be inadequate.
The 2008 International Narcotic Control Strategy Report (INCSR) stated that government made no arrests or prosecutions for money laundering in 2007 and that Guyana currently has inadequate legal and enforcement mechanisms to combat money laundering, although legislation tabled in Parliament would enhance the GOG’s anti-money laundering regime.
The INCSR found that money laundering is perceived as a serious problem, and has been linked to trafficking in drugs, firearms, and persons, as well as to corruption and fraud. It said that while the MLPA provides for the seizure of assets derived as proceeds of crime, guidelines for implementing seizures and forfeitures have never been established.
The report said the passage of this legislation would extend preventive measures to a far wider range of reporting entities, including casinos and designated non-financial businesses and professions.
It said while the FIU may request additional information from obligated entities, it does not have access to law enforcement information or the authority to exchange information with its foreign counterparts. “These limitations collectively stifle the analytical and investigative capabilities of the FIU and law enforcement agencies,” the report said. (Johann Earle)

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