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Govt official under FIU probe
At least one senior government official and an attorney have come under the microscope of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). The duo, sources said, have been purchasing commercial and residential properties located in the western, southern and northern parts of the country. Information reaching the FIU is that some of the properties are being transferred to the attorney’s name, as well as the official’s wife.
The properties—worth millions—have been classed as prime property and paid for in cash. Of concern to the FIU, sources said, are the shell companies being incorporated to purchase the properties which lists the official, his wife and two other attorneys as directors. One of the attorneys is the son of a businessman and has appeared in several sittings of an ongoing financial inquiry.
The most recent residential purchase was made two months ago in the Fairways, Maraval district, where a condominium was bought, while a commercial building was also purchased in the St Clair area. Sources said a dossier of documents including copies of the deeds to the above listed properties, as well as other properties have been submitted to the FIU.
It was only on Thursday, that Justice Minister Herbert Volney told the T&T Guardian in an interview: “I have heard some stories that I do not want to believe. I want to say that I am not a money-in-bag minister.” Volney was responding to comments made over the proclamation about Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 which the House of Representatives voted to repeal in a special sitting on Wednesday.
The intelligence unit is headed by Susan Francois, while Nigel Stoddard is the deputy director of the unit. In August, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said that 300 reports involving suspicious-activity transactions were made to the FIU. He was speaking in the Senate on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Financial Intelligence Unit of Trinidad and Tobago and Anti-Terrorism) Bill 2012.
When Sunday Guardian contacted the FIU, we were told to e-mail the questions. One of the questions asked was whether Government officials were among the reports lodged. The FIU declined to comment, saying such information was confidential. “The subject of a suspicious transaction/activity reports (STR/SAR) is confidential information.
“The FIU officers can neither disclose such information, nor disclose whether the FIU has recommended an investigation or that an investigation has commenced. Such disclosure would be a breach of Sections 21 and 24 of the FIU Act. For breach of those provisions a FIU officer faces the penalty of a fine of $250,000 and three years’ imprisonment.”
Quizzed on whether the FIU informs individuals they were the subject of a probe, FIU said its officers “can neither disclose such information nor disclose whether the FIU has recommended an investigation or that an investigation has commenced.”
Stating that it does not possess investigative powers, but merely gathers information from various sources and produces intelligence which is then submitted to law enforcement to aid in their investigations, the FIU said they received 303 STR/SAR in 2011. Of this number, 16 intelligence reports were disseminated to law enforcement agencies for investigation, while 71 were filed for intelligence purposes and 219 are “subject to ongoing analysis.”
Reports, it was stated, can be made by financial institutions—banks, insurance, investment, mortgage, security dealers and co-operative societies, as well as listed business sectors—attorneys, motor vehicle dealers, accountants, private members clubs and real estate among others.
FIU said their function was mainly administrative and investigation into possible criminal conduct “is a responsibility of the law enforcement and prosecution is a matter for the DPP’s office.” Explaining that the STRs/SARs received are prioritised on a risk assessment basis. Of the STRs/SARs received for 2011, the FIU resolved 84.
Time frame for probe
The time taken to analyse the information received varies depending on the nature of the information received, the complexity of the matter being analysed, if information is required from other sources, and the need to wait on information from local and foreign sources. When analysing information the FIU said it can and does liaise with “both local and foreign law enforcement agencies.”
A STR/SAR filed with the FIU is a report of a belief held by the reporting entity that the transaction being conducted was suspicious (whether the transaction is completed or not). The money value of the suspicious transaction, whether completed or attempted, is recorded on the STR/SAR. The total monetary value of the suspicious transactions reported on STR/SAR for 2011 amounted to approximately $569 million.
On the issue of staff and resources, FIU said the Ministry of Finance and the Economy has ensured that this process is almost completed as all positions have been advertised in the newspapers, on the FIU Web site and on the Government Human Resources Web site. “Applications have been received and interviews conducted and successful candidates have already been appointed. There are a few more interviews to be conducted which would see the FIU at the established strength,” the agency stated.
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