The Financial Intelligence Unit called a press conference today in which they highlighted Belize’s recent attendance at the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force’s Plenary Meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The FIU reported that at the meeting, Belize was able to successfully exit both the International Country Risk Guide and Follow Up Processes. FIU Director, Eric Eusey, says that this latest milestone, improves Belize’s position internationally. Eusey says that this is great news not only for the Government of Belize but for the banking sector. He shared what were the challenges Belize was facing.
Eric Eusey – Director, FIU
“Our deficiencies were several. First in the area of the legal, our laws were a bit stalemated. Our first money laundering act was enacted in 1996 and it was subsequently amended in 2008 but even with that amendment when the review was done in 2011-2012 it was felt that it was deficient in that for example the penalties for money laundering were too low and they were not strong enough. So, an urge was made to improve those and those were strengthen substantially in 2014 where the penalties when we see them, they are referred to as dissuasive. In other words it will change your mind if you want to conduct any money laundering in any of the financial institutions in Belize and because that legislation was enacted it was felt that we are largely compliant in that respect. The other area was the independence of the FIU. It was felt that the FIU was not strong enough and independent of the government to conduct its investigations and other activities so that they can have an unencumbered result. When the assessment was done on the FIU in 2011 the FIU was housed at the Central Bank and it was felt that that was not an ideal arrangement. Subsequent to that the FIU acquired its own building, it acquired its own computer servers and equipment, its own system administrator which they didn’t have before and also in 2014 the legislation was amended to strengthen the independence of the FIU. The other area where there was a weakness was that the laws with respect of shell banks was not strong enough and that was amended to eliminate shell banks. In other words you cannot have an entity registered to conduct business but in fact actually doing nothing or just isolated transactions that is regarded as a vehicle for money laundering so those provisions were put in the law to keep those out. In other areas it was felt that enough the banks and other financial institutions and the designated banks were not reporting enough activity that were regarded as suspicious in regard to money laundering and we strengthen that area where we had a lot of workshops and outreach to the various sectors and that sector has improved tremendously. One of the other areas was in respect to our national coordination the law was amended to allow for National Anti-Money Laundering Committee to be set up and that committee meets at least once very quarter to look at the jurisdiction to see what efforts are being made to counter money laundering so those were some of the improvements that we did but it was a lot of hard work, a lot of long hours that had to be put in by the staff of the FIU and our partners the Central Bank the Banks and Credit Unions the designated non-financial sector area. Under that sector we at the FIU one of our deficiencies was that we had not registered sufficient of the designated non-financial businesses and these are specifically the real estate agents, jewelers, car dealers, accountants, attorneys and companies registered in the Corozal Free Zone and any other Free Zone. So it was a lot of work when you total all these entities you probably come up with over 1,000 agents that we will have to register and monitor and we have to do outreach with them training and mentoring so that they are aware and conscious of the threat of money laundering and terrorist financing and their need to report these whenever it occurs to the FIU.”