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Guyana strengthening anti-money laundering system but lawyers, property dealers, charities among “most vulnerable”

National Risk Assessment (NRA) Coordinator, Alicia Williams.

Lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, used car dealers and registered charities were Wednesday highlighted as “most vulnerable” to money laundering, even as the Guyana government boasted of making headway in reducing the country’s “high” risk for financial crimes.

National Risk Assessment (NRA) Coordinator, Alicia Williams said a 2016-2017 National Risk Assessment found that, “the most vulnerable sectors were the attorneys-at-law, accountants, trust or company service providers, real estate agents, used car dealers, and registered charities.”

The NRA Coordinator said a summary of the first risk assessment that was conducted over 12 months from 2016 to 2017 showed that Guyana had been tagged as “high risk”. “The driving factor for this level of rating was the fact that these sectors were at that time subjected to little or no regulations and supervision for AML/CFT (Anti-Money Laundering/Countering of Financing Terrorism) purposes,” she said.

She said since that first risk assessment was conducted, government has begun implementing several recommendations of the risk-based action plan within timelines. However, she did not say whether any steps were taken to deal with the lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, used car dealers and registered charities.

Ms Williams announced that Guyana was about to begin its second NRA exercise in keeping with Financial Action Task Force rules and prepare for the fourth round of Mutual Evaluation in the first quarter of 2023. She explained that the NRA would be conducted by a working group of 75 participants representing over 40 public and private sector organisations to identify any emerging new terrorist financing threats and money laundering such as virtual assets, oil and gas sector dealings, financial proliferation and illegal wildlife.

The NRA Coordinator said the new National Risk Assessment would be owned by Guyana and the World Bank’s role would be limited to providing technical assistance for December 2019 and September 2020 assessments. “It is a capacity building exercise that will enable us to undertake future risk assessments without external support,” she said.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams said while Guyana has been removed from the blacklist as a result of a lot of “hard work”, efforts have to be made to insulate the country’s emerging oil and gas sector from international financial crimes under the regimes being governed by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and Financial Action Task Force (FATF). “With our oil regime looming, it is very important that we ensure that we are not blacklisted because the CFATF and the FATF requirements to protect the international financial economy is brutal and they don’t respect anybody,” he said at the opening of an NRA seminar on money laundering and terrorist financing. Citing the need for political will, he said the fourth round of Mutual Evaluation would be very expensive and would have to be included in the national budget.

Turning his attention to lawyers, the Attorney General said supervision either by themselves or by a supervisory authority would have to be created by legislation. “Guyana cannot be blacklisted because the lawyers feel they are in a special category,” he said. He said, unlike the accountants who had attended a sensitisation session on AML/CFT, very few lawyers had turned out to one billed for them.

The NRA Coordinator said steps taken so far to implement recommendations include the establishment of the National AML/CFT Coordination Committee under the chairmanship of the Attorney General, signing of memoranda of understanding between the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and all supervisory authorities as well as the Deeds Registry and the Commercial Registry for the exchange of information, increasing the FIU staff from eight to 11 including adding an accountant and a lawyer, increasing the staff of the Special Organised Unit of the Guyana Police Force from eight to 13, amendment of the AML/CFT legislation to include commissioners of oaths and affidavits as reporting entities and subjected to monitoring and supervision, pursuing FIU (Guyana) membership of the Egmont Group of FIUs, and patrol of porous borders by the recently-acquired drones by the Guyana Defence Force.

Williams said other recommendations that have been implemented include the Bank of Guyana’s updated manual for the insurance sector and new guidelines to money transfer agencies and cambios, and published guidelines on politically-exposed persons by the FIU to guide business relations with them.

“These are only a few of the implementation measures taken by the relevant agencies in accordance with the recommendations in the National Risk Assessment. These, of course, will continue to be monitored even as we advance with the new National Risk Assessment,” said Williams in her presentation.

The AML/CFT related agencies include the FIU,  Special Organised Crime Unit, State Assets Recovery Agency, Director of Public Prosecutions Chambers, Attorney General’s Chambers, Guyana Revenue Authority, the Gaming Authority, Bank of Guyana, Guyana Gold Board and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.

The Institute of Private Enterprise Development, and the mobile money services of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company had been also required to implement a number of recommendations emerging from the first NRA, according to the NRA Coordinator.

At that time, she said the sectors with medium high money laundering vulnerabilities were the banks, money transfer agencies, cambios, credit unions, dealers in precious metals, and dealers in precious and semi-precious stones and cooperatives. Williams said the “very low” or least vulnerable sectors were pawnbrokers, betting shops, insurance agencies, casinos, and the security sector.

“The Working Group found that the overall money laundering risk for Guyana was high. That was informed by the country’s overall threat which was also rated high and the overall vulnerability which was rated medium high. The threat level for terrorism was rated as medium,” the NRA Coordinator said.

The first National Risk Assessment was done over a 12-month period from 2016 to 2017 by a working group of 70 persons from 36 public and private sector agencies. Sectors assessed then included banks, insurance agencies, securities, money transfer agencies and cambios as well as casinos, lotteries, betting shops, pawnbrokers, accountants, attorneys-at-law, used car dealers, realtors, credit unions, cooperatives, and dealers in precious and semi-precious metals.