The Bahamas must work to be ahead of global financial watchdogs if it is to remain off lists of non-complaint jurisdictions, Attorney General Carl Bethel told a virtually-held financial services symposium yesterday, adding that the sector needs to impose its own progressive changes even before the world does.
Bethel’s remarks and the virtual symposium come almost two weeks after the European Union (EU) placed The Bahamas on a list of uncooperative jurisdictions because of deficiencies in its anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes.
The EU placed The Bahamas on the list partly due to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) identifying this country as a jurisdiction with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies.
Bethel told the symposium that The Bahamas had failed to keep up to date with the evolving FATF standards.
“When warned, the government was slow to act. The challenges we faced in 2017 were almost unbeatable,” said Bethel.
“Our progress to date has been considerable and we are now poised to make that last great effort, to show the effectiveness of all the efforts we have made together to address the need for change and improvements.
“We cannot afford to let our guard down again. If we wish to remain relevant and effective, we must strive every day to stay abreast of evolving standards and expectations. It is an easy thing to slip, take the easy road and end up being listed. Experience shows that it is easy to be listed, but a far more difficult thing to repair the damage.”
Bethel explained that there has been a concerted effort to investigate and prosecute money laundering (ML) in The Bahamas. He pointed to statistics that cite 116 people, 79 prosecutions and 46 convictions between 2018 and 2019.
He added, “Investigations of ML foreign cross-border matters have been featured in several cases and we are awaiting responses from various international partners to complete a review of documentation with a view to filing charges in the Bahamian courts.”
According to Bethel, the Central Bank of The Bahamas has begun research into money laundering and terrorist financing. It has also collaborated with the Compliance Commission in certain assessments.
“This collaborative work with the Compliance Commission will continue in 2020 in assessing the risk of designated non-financial businesses and professions,” said Bethel.
The securities commission, he noted, is also working with his office to roll out three new bills to regularize new and emerging “virtual technologies and the marketing of the same, inclusive of digital currencies and tokens, which may be offered to the market”.
In addition, Bethel’s office has created a new compliance unit dedicated to the full implementation of the beneficial ownership search system (BOSS), which he said will lead to all incorporated or unincorporated non-profit organizations registering their names and objects, principal offices and their commitment to maintain proper financial records.
“The notices have also served to remind banks that all banking facilities for unregistered non-profits must cease, as an additional incentive for full and universal compliance,” Bethel said.
He ended his address to the virtual symposium calling for the sector to “seek to do better than others, lean forward and continue to strive to attain and maintain the highest standards of practice, oversight, supervision and enforcement, in order to have a healthy, wealthy and respected financial sector”.