MAJOR MONEY LAUNDERING AMENDMENTS TO BE TABLED IN PARLIAMENT

Amendments involve changes to Belize’s Criminal Code, Firearms Act, the Interception of Communications Act, as well as legislation governing NGOs and trusts.

A suite of anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism bills are due to be tabled when Parliament meets on Wednesday – triggered by a push from the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) for Belize to take steps to address what the regional organization of 29 Caribbean Basin jurisdictions calls deficiencies which pose a risk to the international financial system.

Amandala has been reliably informed that the amendments involve changes to Belize’s Criminal Code, Firearms Act, the Interception of Communications Act, as well as legislation governing NGOs and trusts.

Belize is listed on top of the list of three Caribbean countries which have been given a November 13, 2013, deadline to effect legislative reforms. Next in line are Guyana and Dominica.

A public statement of the CFATF issued May 30, 2013 says the member countries have agreed to implement the international standards for Anti-money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) – Financial Action Task Force Recommendations (FATF Recommendations).

It added that in order to protect the international financial system from money laundering and financing of terrorism (ML/FT) risks and to encourage greater compliance with the AML/CFT standards, the CFATF identifies jurisdictions that have strategic deficiencies and works with them to address those deficiencies that pose a risk to the international financial system.

“If Belize does not take specific steps by November 2013, then the CFATF will identify Belize as not taking sufficient steps to address its AML/CFT deficiencies and will take the additional steps of calling upon its Members to consider implementing counter measures to protect their financial systems from the ongoing money laundering and terrorist financing risks emanating from Belize, and at that time CFATF will consider referring Belize to the Financial Action Task Force International Cooperation Review Group (FATF ICRG),” the organization said.

CFATF said, “Belize has failed to make sufficient progress in addressing its significant strategic AML/CFT deficiencies, including certain legislative reforms.”

The suite of proposed amendments comes as a response to this indictment against Belize. More specifically, the trading of firearms without a license, for example, could attract a 10-year prison sentence with the new laws that are proposed to take effect. The proposed amendment calls for the criminalization of arms trafficking by anyone who attempts to import, export, move or transfer a firearm without a legitimate license.

The proposed changes to the Criminal Code include new offenses, such as piracy (including but not limited to piracy on the high seas), insider-trading, hostage-taking, and trafficking in stolen goods.

A proposed amendment to the Gaming Control laws introduces a provision to mandate that every person with interest in gaming operations be disclosed at the time an application is made for a license.

Furthermore, NGOs will be required to make their information public and accessible to people who pay the prescribed fee to get information on those organizations. Currently, information on companies, for example, is accessible through the Belize Companies Registry if a fee is paid. We have been told that this requirement is being put in place due to the claim that NGOs are used for money laundering.

Another proposed legislative amendment will require the full disclosure of details for persons who have interest in any trust in Belize. Offshore trusts, since 2007, have been required to fully disclose their background information and a registry currently exists at the International Financial Services Commission of Belize, housed in Belmopan, our newspaper has been informed.

A proposed amendment to the Interception of Communications laws would give the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) the power to seek a court order to access communications information from service providers, rather than requiring that the application be made through the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Also, a new testing regime for incoming Customs officers would also be introduced. If the proposed amendment is passed, a test could be applied to anyone who wants to become a Customs Officer, in which they would be subject to three layers of scrutiny: firstly, an assessment of their background, experience, integrity, and soundness; secondly, an assessment of whether they have the diligence required to fulfill their role; and thirdly, any other matter that the Public Service Commission (the entity which would be empowered to undertake this test) may deem fit.

A proposal will also be tabled to give broader powers to the Director of the FIU to access information, beyond the scope of banking information.

Whereas the suite of 10 bills is expected to be one highlight of Wednesday’s House of Representatives meeting, another will be a US$44 million motion for the Government to continue resisting the payment of the arbitral award won by the Ashcroft Alliance for the settlement of a debt that the Musa administration had guaranteed for Universal Health Services – now Belize Healthcare Partners.

Speaking with journalists on Friday, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow – who will likely be the one tabling that motion – said that a recent ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (in the case of the settlement deed between the former Musa administration and the Ashcroft Alliance, which has been ruled illegal) had indicated that Government cannot pay any monies under such a guarantee without first going to Parliament to ratify and to vote monies for the payment under the guarantee.

Other motions to be tabled include a motion on sports and a motion on the National Bank of Belize.

From the Opposition side of the floor, Cayo South Area Representative Julius Espat is expected to present a motion for a reconstitution of the Public Accounts Committee, which is now made up of 4 members from the Ruling Party and two members from the Opposition, one of whom sits as chair. Espat’s recommendation is for the ruling party to surrender two seats to social partners in the Senate and add one more to give social partners three seats, leaving the two major parties with two seats each. This would require an amendment of the Standing Orders, which sets out the current formula. Any change would have to be approved by the Committee of Selection, chaired by Mesopotamia area representative for the ruling United Democratic Party, Michael Finnegan.

In a statement released today, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, “The Chamber supports a reconstitution of the PAC so that control does not reside with any Government in power, but rather, with stakeholders such as the private sector, the unions and the churches, which can ensure that partisan interests are not prioritized by representatives when discharging this most important role of safeguarding how the Government spends Belize’s public funds.”

Speaking on the Espat motion Friday, Barrow made it clear that he will take objection to the motion when it is called.

He said that Espat “…is trying to conflate a standing committee with a special select committee. If you read the Standing Orders, these are two different creatures.”

Of note is that Parliament is supposed to be on recess from August 1 to September 6, and so this week’s meeting will be a Special Sitting of the House of Representatives.

Amandala