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Anti-money laundering bill passed; no whimsical seizure of GUY$10 M or more assured

Finance Minister Winston Jordan addressing the National Assembly.

Now that amendments to Guyana’s anti-money laundering law have been passed, government on Friday assured that GUY$10 million or more would not be seized in a willy-nilly manner and anyone caught doing so without sufficient evidence would be punished.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams was quoted by the Government Information Agency (GINA) as saying that the provision in the amended Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT) to seize money to the value of GUY$10 million and more, anywhere in the country would be based on cogent evidence before any such seizure or detention can be made.

This would see seizures being made only on provision of evidence by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) or the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU). “Any whimsical seizures will result in offending parties being charged with malicious prosecution,” he said.
 
Draft regulations are being done to ensure that the methodology of freezing assets as outlined are in conjunction with the United Nations Security Council, the minister explained.

Government, he added, would be meeting the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) officials in August and the Act will be examined for compliance. In September the world body, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) would then decide on Guyana’s fate.

Following its third reading in the National Assembly after being put to committee, the Anti – Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill was passed by the National Assembly this evening. The bill was presented by Attorney General Basil Williams at yesterday’s sitting. The Opposition People’s Progressive Party is yet to make its appearance in the Assembly.

This will see an independent ten- member authority overseeing the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and its director, he stated, all of whom will appointed transparently by an Appointive Committee and will then see them going to the National Assembly for ratification and approval. It was also made clear that the FIU’s day to day operations will not be interfered with and the unit’s director and deputy will be free to fulfill their mandates.
 In speaking to the bill, Finance Minister Winston Jordan said it represented government’s firm resolve to fight the scourge of money laundering and terrorist financing, both of which can be quite severe. “If sections of the financing system are owned or controlled by criminal elements, authorities may encounter difficulties in supervising these institutions or identifying problems where financial stability is compromised”.

He explained that a country’s economic reality cannot be adequately reflected if sections are owned by criminal elements as official data such as employment rates, consumption and foreign exchange rates will be incorrect. Policy makers will then have difficulty in formulating the proper economic policies, the minister added. This will result in a parallel economy which will be to the detriment of the formal economy hence he said, the bill will see the country’s financial stability being enhanced.
In calling for the bill’s passage the finance minister said, “We have gone through tremendous pain and I think we have passed the stage of aborting.”

CARICOM nations have been made to enact legislation to combat the risks of money laundering and finance for terrorism, based on CFATF’s recommendations.  This  is the regional oversight body, tasked with overseeing and reviewing member states’ compliance. This means that legislation is an absolute compulsion, since failure to do so, attracts punitive sanctions from oversight bodies mandated to ensure compliance.  


Guyana legislation

Guyana would have legislated the Money Laundering (Prevention) Act in 2000, and then followed by the AMLCFT Act in 2009. However, in November 2011, the  Government was informed by CFATF regulators that there was need to ensure that the country’s financial regulations were reinforced, elevating such to the level of compliance with existing international best practices.

In April 2013, with a further demand from CFATF, this critical issue then became public knowledge, as the government sought to introduce the measure for urgent, parliamentary vote/approval.  The political opposition, of the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) parties, recommended that the Bill be forwarded to a Parliamentary Select Committee, citing deficiencies, and for reasonable time in ensuring a proper compliant Bill for legislation. This Parliamentary Committee was made up of representatives from both sides of the House.

 Six months later, and with no consensus as to amendments agreed for a finished legislative product, the government withdrew the Bill from the Committee, and returned it to the House for action. As was expected, the opposition side of the House (APNU and AFC) defeated this renewed attempt, giving as reasons its premature removal from the Parliamentary Committee. They contended that because of this, the Bill was incomplete, as far as making it compliant had been concerned.  This resulted in CFATF, advising member countries to effect safeguards against risks of money laundering and financing of terrorism, when doing business with Guyana.  

In February, 2014, in efforts to assist Guyana towards the desired goal of legislating a compliant Bill, CFATF’s  financial advisor, Roger Hernandez visited, during which he advised the Parliamentary committee that a compliant Bill  should be legislated, for consideration  by CFATF’s plenary session in May, 2014. There was also a similar visit in April, 2014 by the organisation’s most senior personnel, its chairperson, Ms. Allyson Maynard – Gibson, and Executive Director, Calvin Wilson, in a bid to end the stalemate.

Since the visit of these high officials, Guyana has been granted at least two extensions; and because of missed deadlines, it was then referred to the FATF’s International Cooperation Review Group (IRCG) for its October 2014 plenary in Paris. At this important meeting, the then Attorney General, Mr Anil Nandlall, representing the PPP/C  government,  gave what was described as a “high level commitment”, in addition to a Letter of Commitment by  the then President, Donald Ramotar.  Also there was a commitment to plug the loopholes in the country’s existing Anti Money regime. These assurances averted a blacklisting.         

Guyana, since the Paris Plenary, has been implementing a seven-point plan, shaped by the Americas Region Recovery Group (ARRG) as mandated by the ICRG, to address its strategic AML/CFT deficiencies.