Weak review for combating money laundering

POSTED: 11/29/12 3:17 PM

GREAT BAY- St. Maarten has until May 13 to respond and submit an action plan on how it will comply with 49 recommendations that have been proposed by the Financial Action Task Force and the United Nations Security Council. The island received a negative review based on a mutual evaluation report of its systems and laws two weeks ago, Justice Minister Roland Duncan said during yesterday’s Council of Ministers press conference.

Duncan recently returned from the Caribbean Financial Action Task (CFATF) 36th plenary meeting in Tortola from November 12 to 15. He was accompanied by Finance Minister Roland Tuitt, officials of the justice ministry and customs and the Central Bank. The minister said that though the delegation that headed to Tortola was a large one, every person was necessary to address specific issues.

Of the 49 recommendations, 9 are core proposals that require critical implementation. They all exist to counter narco-trafficking, terrorism funding and money laundering.

“We were not too happy with the result. Of the 49 recommendations, St. Maarten was found lacking and needing to deal seriously with 15, usually everybody strives to be under 10. We put up a fight and met with the expert review group and later on defended our position in the plenary,” Duncan said.

But the regional body had already made its decision where more than 150 delegates were in attendance. Duncan said that he was surprised since Curacao who shares similar laws and joint enforcement with St. Maarten, received a favorable evaluation.

He believes that the Dutch language and laws hindered many of CFATF’s members from fully understanding St. Maarten.

“In my opinion most of it is because our constitutional system is not very well understood. The members were reluctant to run a comparison. One of our challenges is that nobody understands Dutch. So everything we make we have to translate and one of our quarrels was that they treat us as if you don’t translate it in English or Spanish to them then you have not complied,” he added.

From now until May, Duncan says, all efforts will be focused on achieving compliance with the regulations.

“Getting to full compliance is that we have to further strengthen the financial intelligence unit (MOT), our Central Bank needs to step up better and we need to adjust our laws even further to comply. There is a lot of work involved but we are confident that we will be able to get to May 13 and go further.”

However there is no threat of being black listed since full compliance will take a number of years, Duncan said.

“Besides that during the course of the meeting we found that countries were much worse shape than us. We are a full-fledged member and we pay more than some of the bigger countries because of our per capita income.”

During the meeting St. Maarten was also inducted into the steering committee of the Dutch speaking Caribbean. Chairmanship of the committee which includes Aruba, Curacao and Suriname is rotated annually.

Ahead of the meeting, vice chairman of CFATF Cherno Jallow spoke of its impact on countries.

“It’s all about reputation; no jurisdiction wants to be viewed as having weak systems to effectively combat money laundering and terrorist financing. When the systems are strong, particularly for a financial services jurisdiction ….it helps to enhance the reputation of the jurisdiction.”

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