Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh on Tuesday appeared to differ with President Donald Ramotar over why the 2009 Anti Money Laundering and Countering Financing Terrorism Act (AML/CFT) has not been enforced to capture suspected money-washers.
In a letter to the privately-owned Stabroek News on Tuesday, Director of Public Prosecutions Bibi Shalimar-Hack said only one case had been sent to her by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) since the law was passed. She recalled asking for further information but none has been provided to date.
Speaking at a news conference held at the National Communications Network (NCN), Singh said the 2009 law was a very good piece of legislation except for a small number of areas that needed tightening. “The principal act that we have in place is itself a very strong piece of legislation,” he said.
He said explained that the deficiencies in the Act were “very specific” ranging from, among other things, definitional issues to the extent of penalties. “There is no doubt in my mind that the principal act already being a strong act that was passed with unanimous parliamentary support augment with the amendments that are responsive to the CFATF recommendations, I believe will constitute a very robust legislative framework for fighting money laundering,” he said.
Asked why this “very strong” law has not been enforced to capture suspects, Singh was at pains to explain, saying a number of mechanisms were being established to support the Act. “I don’t agree with your assertion that the 2009 Act was not properly enforced… I would say that one has to understand the various elements of an effective anti-money laundering institutional architecture,” he said. He reiterated that Guyana has already satisfied the requirement for a strong anti-money laundering law but other steps had to be taken. They include the establishment of a Financial Intelligence Unit, issuance of guidelines and regulations, development of institutional capability, introduction of protocols for identification of suspicious transactions and the appointment of supervisory authorities over the various classes of reporting entities. “If one were to look at the various actions that were taken to establish that institutional architecture, I believe it would be fair to say that a lot was achieved,” he said.
Pressed that despite those achievements no one has been caught, the Finance Minister said “this is a process” as has been recognised by the FIU and the CFATF. “This is a process and I would say considerable progress has been made in advancing this process,” he added.
Presidential Advisor on Governance, Gail Teixeira sought to measure Guyana’s failure to charge and prosecute suspected money launderers by the absence of prosecutions for such offences in other Caribbean countries. “Let’s look at the Caribbean countries. How many money laundering cases have been brought, charges and convictions…Obviously there has to be comparison, Sir” she said when asked if that was our benchmark.
But when talks between the President and Leaders of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), David Granger and Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan; the Guyanese leader had contended at a news conference that the government-tabled amendments to the law were key to enforcement. “The Bill that is before the Parliament now is to correct whatever deficiencies the Act had as far as enforcement is concerned….So that it will give legal effect to taking some of the stands, the measures that have to be taken in case you find someone guilty,” Ramotar has said.
In echoing Teixeira’s view about an absence of prosecutions for money laundering in the rest of the Caribbean, the President quipped “then maybe the whole region then is probably deficient as far as implementation is concerned… because I don’t know of any country where they have had a successful prosecution that they are talking about.”
Financial Advisor of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), Roger Hernandez has said that Guyana’s enforcement of the AML/CFT Law would be monitored before it could be taken off the regional blacklist.
The CFATF official has cautioned that additional amendments to the financial crimes law ran the risk of making Guyana non-compliant and eventually globally blacklisted by the France-headquartered Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The opposition has been pressing government to give into demands for the principal act to be amended to provide for the establishment of an Anti-Money Laundering Authority, widening of police and customs powers to seize GUY$10 million anywhere in Guyana if they are suspected to be laundered proceeds, and for a parliamentary committee to appoint the Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit and key staff members. Currently, only the President can fire the FIU Head.
The Ramotar administration has been appealing to the opposition-controlled parliamentary select committee on the AML/CFT amendments and the House to pass the government-sponsored changes. Attorney General, Anil Nandlall said changes to the Bill could result in an unconstitutional law being passed and the implied repeal of a series of other laws.