In a 2015 report of international narcotics control strategy, Belize was one of seven Caribbean countries that were listed as a major money laundering country. In the report, the US Government noted that Belize’s encouragement of the growth of offshore financial activates is making the country vulnerable to money laundering through offshore banks, insurance companies, trust service providers, mutual fund companies and international business companies. During yesterday’s press conference, Central Bank Governor, Glenford Ysaguiire spoke of the country’s position on te money laundering issue.
“When you look at the size of the Belizean economy or even the size of the financial sector that would be hard for me to understand. Our banking sector is about $4 billion dollars and so I can’t see how in terms of the global scheme of things that we would be classified as such. I think one of the issues that we face as a nation in terms of these AML is the fact that we lie smack in the middle of the drug transshipment route to the US and so that would be an issue that I think the State Department would have with all the countries in Central America; being looked at as transhipment points.”
Governor Ysaguirre went on to speak on the crucial role of the media in their reports whilst using a recent case to say that sufficient information was not sought.
“I think that is one area that we can seek to do a little bit more and that is not something only for the authorities whether it be the Central Bank or the Government but also for our press in terms of how we report things. There was a news item in the Canadian press most recently about a Ponzi scheme by the Banner Ponzi scheme that was being run by two Canadian gentlemen. The report came out that they were charged for money laundering and for operating the Ponzi scheme and that it mentioned that they held bank accounts in Belize and some other Caribbean jurisdiction and perhaps Cyprus I think it is and of course our local press picked that up but I don’t think that anybody took the effort to call either the Central Bank or the FIU to verify what had happened and what involvement we have. If one would have spoken to the FIU I think you would have learnt that that particular case was solved and to a large extent by the assistance that the FIU provided to Canadian authorities. That case started way back in 2013 from the former director of the FIU and it came about as a result of a suspicious transaction that was reported by one of our banks here in Belize. With information gathered over the last two years they were able to put together a case to the extent that in 2015 they were able to charge these guys. I think that is testimony to the strength of the AML CFD regime that we have in place that it had helped to resolve such a major crime and I think in that regard we are not doing enough to promote the image of the jurisdiction and the contribution we are making on the international level to fight these issues.”
According to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, the banks in Belize are compliant with the FATCA and will continue to do so.
“Every single banking institution in this country is FATCA compliant and so information governing accounts held in our banks by US citizens or even US residents that information is sent back to the US authorities on a routine basis. With respect generally to drug trafficking the governor is absolutely right, this is a feature of where we are. I keep saying the pencil of God has no eraser and as long as we are so squarely in these transshipment routes our vulnerability which is what these reports focus on will continue.”
Aside from the local banking sector’s compliance to financial regulations, Belize is also compliant to several agreements signed onto in the region when it comes to the transhipment of drugs and money laundering.
“There is a gamut, a whole spectrum of cooperative relations that we engage in bilaterally and regionally. We are part of the Central American Security System, we are part of the initiative that the United States launched, this is why we acquire these expensive items such as the new Coast Guard vessels, this and other reasons we are acquiring helicopters. We play our role, we offer our cooperation and collaboration in full measure and nobody can fault us in that regard.”
In addition to the seven Caribbean countries named in the list, so were the United States, the UK and Canada