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Govt units, politicians to come under FIU scrutiny
Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) scrutiny to prevent white-collar crime will soon apply to all public authorities—from ministries to the Tobago House of Assembly—and also to “politically-exposed” people. This is as a result of amendments to FIU legislation debated in the House of Representatives yesterday.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, piloting the legislation, said a team from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) would visit T&T later this month to see how T&T had done in complying with FATF requirements according to the United Nations convention to which T&T signed. The requirements are aimed at monitoring suspicious financial transactions to curb white-collar crime, including money laundering, and to clamp down on the assets of terrorists.
Ramlogan said when the international team visits, the Government hoped T&T would get a positive rating from the inspection. Amendments to the FIU legislation will now place non-regulated businesses under the scrutiny of the FIU in addition to other businesses ranging from real estate to jewelry dealers and banks. It will place public authorities under FIU scrutiny also.
Ramlogan said these range from ministries and their departments to the Tobago House of Assembly, THA executive council and other THA units, regional health authorities, statutory corporations, service commissions and any other entity funded by taxpayers. “The FIU can now reach into these areas and get the co-operation to investigate suspicious transactions,” Ramlogan said. Other amendments allow the FIU to halt for five days any suspicious financial transactions reported to the body.
The FIU will also be allowed to solicit information and co-operation from authorities—such as the Central Bank and public authorities—for its probes. The FIU will be able to get a High Court order to obtain the information if necessary. Ramlogan said confidentiality will be tight since any FIU official who disclosed information risked a fine of $250,000 and three years in prison.
Amendments provide protection for “whistleblowers” to give incentive for people to provide information, Ramlogan added. He said seven-plus people were in place at the agency. PNM MP Colm Imbert, however, said the Government had been tardy in ensuring compliance with FTTF requirements and therefore had to call MPs out of their August vacation yesterday to rush through the amendments before the FATF team visits next week.
He pointed to several warnings T&T had received since 2010 to this year that it had not complied with necessary requirements of the FATF, including up to yesterday when he said FATF had T&T listed as a state with “strategic deficiencies” on the issue. Imbert blamed the Finance Ministry for failing to implement the required aspects. He said the FIU will now have scrutiny not only of public authorities, but also of “politically-exposed” people, shell banks, wire transfers and other entities.
If local agencies did not want to probe certain issues, he said, the FIU would be able to. He said a certain US$250,000 cheque “coming from Qatar” which might not be of concern in some local quarters, and now allegedly “in the bank account of a politically-exposed person” might be on the FATF’s radar. Imbert said amendments to the bill could have been done months ago. He said MPs should have been on their family vacation. Imbert said he had to leave his “gondola” (in Italy) to return for the debate.
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