Convictions vital to Anti-Money Laundering push

─ AG Williams tells Linden bankers 

─ Lindeners assured witness protection will be given

DPI, Guyana, Wednesday, August 15, 2018

“One of the things we have to do to be successful is to get convictions to be effective,” Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams SC., told Linden bankers and other officials at an outreach today.

The Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) sensitisation outreach informed participants on the role they play in reporting any form of suspicious financial transactions by clients or business partners. It comes at a time when Guyana prepares for the 2021 fourth round of mutual evaluation to become compliant with the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) regulations.

“If we don’t get convictions, we would have to swim in the hole they have in the fourth round; getting convictions lies on all of you here in this room because you have to give information of suspicious transactions,” AG Williams cautioned,

In his opening remarks, AG Williams, who is also the chairman of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFTAF), recalled Guyana’s progress in combatting an economy stifled with illegal and dirty money. The country, he said, has moved from being blacklisted to being evaluated in the fourth round. To ensure no regression is made, serious preparatory works are being done which include ongoing regional outreaches, since everyone is involved in the process of AML/CFT.

“In this fourth round, we have to deal with not only recommendations but immediate outcomes, and we also have to show the effectiveness and technical compliance. If we fail to do that, we will be back to being blacklisted and that would really have a debilitating effect on our economy.”

In his brief remarks, Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Matthew Langevine explained the role of the FIU in investigating suspicious transactions and he urged all representatives of reporting agencies to get involved.

“You as representing reporting entities, have a very important role to play in this process because it starts with you. You are what we call the gatekeepers because you will see the irregularities first and so it is important that you be trained and be aware of what is usual and what is abnormal.” All banks, cambios, cooperative societies, insurance businesses, betting shops, lotteries, pawn brokers and auto dealers should all be registered with the FIU since sanctions may follow. Registration forms were made available at the seminar.

Ramnarine Lal, Director of Bank Supervision Department of the Bank of Guyana also urged the representatives to know their customers and keep time records.  “You must have adequate records of your customer, these must be updated periodically and must be kept for seven years.” Suspicious transactions normally come after transactions of large and unusual sums of cash that are not consistent with the customer’s profile. He urged reporting agencies, especially commercial banks to have systems in place to identify launderers easily and to continually train staff in this regard.

Head of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), Sydney James related that currently 350 investigations are being conducted and SOCU has a pivotal role in this regard. Convictions, he said, are important to SOCU since it is the primary policing unit responsible for investigating money laundering and terrorist financing and could only be done through reporting.

Natasha Backer from the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) noted in her presentation that the DPP’s role comes to the end of the reporting trail with advising charges after SOCU would have initiated crime files. Persons should not only be willing to report, she said, but to also give additional information and give evidence in court.

Witness protection will be given

Lindeners expressed their willingness to report suspicious financial activities but were concerned about being protected from the perpetrators when they do blow the whistle. AG Williams reminded Lindeners of the Witness Protection Act which guarantees witness protection when needed. This can go as far as changing one’s identity or migrating to another country. Handling the witness protection is an anonymous body which also trains reporting agencies on how this is being done and what is the best approach to take. While Lindeners expressed their lack of confidence in the police, Williams reminded them that it is a totally independent system and so no one should have fear of reporting since he or she would be safe and protected.

Participating were representatives from Linden’s commercial banks, Cooperative Societies, Linden Chamber of Commerce, Insurance companies, regional officials and credit unions. A multi stake holder team of supervisory agencies that presented were, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Bank of Guyana (BoG) and Guyana Gold Board.

By: Vanessa Braithwaite   

Images: Department of Public Information