The Money Laundering (Prevention) (Amendment) Bill, which was up for yet another amendment on Thursday in the House of Representatives, was the subject of considerable debate with former Investment and Tourism Minister Hon. Asot Michael questioning the language of the Bill and its potential to stifle and persecute innocent persons not engaged in the nefarious activity of money laundering.
“I support the bill wholeheartedly. We have to pass these types of legislation,” Michael said, adding, “This is the umpteenth amendment to this bill and the reason for it seems [simply] to legislate the recommendations of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) that were made in its Mutual Evaluation Report on Antigua and Barbuda in 2018.
“We as lawmakers should have sight of this report and also the update of the FATF 40 Recommendations 2020, as referenced in the Explanatory Memorandum,” the MP affirmed.
MP Michael’s challenge stands firmly with the unexplained wealth order, which is a form of civil confiscation order used where a person is ‘suspected’ of engaging in money laundering and is unable to explain the source of his wealth.
He said, “It is noticeable that an unexplained wealth order is triggered upon suspicion that one is engaging in money laundering. Compare this to the proceeds to crime provisions, which are triggered on conviction. We want to fight money laundering but we do not want to unjustly trample on the citizens’ right to property and privacy.”
The clause is supposedly based on precedent form the UK, Australia, and Trinidad Tobago.
“I would also like to ask, and the Hon. AG should tell us, what legal challenges have there been to these unexplained wealth orders in those countries? What have the courts of those countries said about those orders, which the government seeks to introduce here in Antigua and Barbuda.
“We deserve to know what are the safeguards to ensure that this will be an anti-money laundering measure and not a tool for political harassment or other ulterior motive,” the former Investment Minister said.
He said further that government should not pass legislation in government that it cannot live with in opposition. “The bill speaks of unexplained wealth… they can ask the director of ONDCP whomever he may be 10 years from now, or 20, how did Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, Asot Michael, any MP, civil servant, or member of the public, have accumulated their wealth, and [whatever] their explanation is they don’t have to accept it,” the MP contended.
“If the answer is unsatisfactory, your assets may be forfeited to the State,” he said, clarifying, however, that his citing of political figures was only a matter of immediate reference and not one of malicious targeting.
“This is bad legislation, this is draconian… We want to fight money laundering in this country, [and] I support the legislation… but, we can’t just do it willy-nilly,” Michael said.
“We have a constitution, which is the supreme law in this land however, there are certain parts of this bill that are unconstitutional any may result in legal challenges in the courts of Antigua and Barbuda.
“The right of persons to be secure in their person, papers and property, will now be overturned by this bill. The burden will now shift from the state to prove a crime to the citizen to prove innocence. This turns our British Common Law jurisprudence totally on its head,” declared the MP for St. Peter.
He said further, that the provisions being applied could have consequences that the State may not necessarily foresee at this time; noting that simple banking in Antigua and Barbuda is “very restricted” in terms of the commercial development of the country. “It is very difficult to move money through the banks, even our CIP money.”
Responding to Michael’s stance, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Hon. Gaston Browne – the mover of the Bill – said he understood his colleague’s position but noted that compliance with the CFATF recommendations was out of the hands of Antigua and Barbuda, and refusal was akin to sanctions which, following ripple effects, would lead the legislative team to inevitably make the amendments in the end.
“If we refuse to pass this piece of legislation there will be consequences and we will have to come back and pass it. Notwithstanding the potent arguments. It is necessary, even though we may not agree,” Prime Minister Browne said.
The St. Peter MP however, maintained that the level of due diligence and the anti-money laundering guidelines per the CFATF recommendations are too rigid. “They are totally insensitive to the fact that banking services are key to commerce in this country, the PM has advocated this on many occasions,” he said.
Michael went on to cite a number of unclear verbiages in the legislation that he believes has left a lot of open windows for misunderstanding and abuse. Some of these were addressed at the committee stage of Thursday’s debate.
“I am also fully aware of the need for us to be fully compliant with the best international standards and practices of anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism, in order to have a clean jurisdiction that we can be proud of and to be the leader in the entire Caribbean. The last thing that we want in this jurisdiction is to be blacklisted as has happened during the era of Allen Stanford, and have financial advisories issued against Antigua and Barbuda by the OECD, CFATF, US and UK Government.
“I’m here to support the Bill. Anything that is onerous and I think that tramples on the rights of the private citizen and that are unconstitutional, we should expunge,” the MP said.
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Yes and not once but twice in 2 years.
Knocked down? Perhaps. Knocked out? Never!. Thanks Hon. Asot Michael for your very worthy contributions to the discussion on the ammendments to the Money Laundering Bill.
The Honourable Assot Michael is absolutely right. While it may be politically prudent to pass this legislation as a tool to silence and threaten selective politicians in opposition, the consequences to the majority of citizens is potentially devastating. I am just going to offer a simple but very serious analogy. The Box system in Antigua is a staple of our development but by international standards is seriously illegal. Many build and improve properties through this system of forced savings but under scrutiny could not pass international test, and would definitely amount to money laundering. For one thing box holders are not regulated and government has no oversight, regulations, or taxes to monitor BOXES. No politician in Antigua can pass that scrutiny test and worst they may even become victims of practices that are condoned in Antigua but are illegal in developed countries. While this legislation may be tempting by perception to stem corruption, the consequences to the common man is devastating. Town halls needed to sensitize the public before rush to passage.
I agreed with Asot Michael’s arguments in regards to this Bill.Last month they went to Parliament to pass said Bill.Asot stood up and dissected that Bill.Because the Bill at that time was giving the head of the ONDCP an open book.To go into any Bank and look at any accounts without a Court Order.With the Political interference into persons businesses in Antigua and Barbuda.That would and could be very dangerous and costly to the Nation.I do believed that many lawsuits would have resulted.Pass a Bill that is fair and just.Not just draft and pass a Bill to appease an Organization.
it was best if this bill was amended using international experts as this would give A&B credible standing in the International financial society and help banking!
I found that guy on the disturber this afternoon to be sooo out of tune. Then again maybe he intentionally played ignorant about the real reason for the amendment. Tabor let your ignorant friends on the disturber know the real genesis of the bill. Let them also know it is not a party issue it is a country issue that red or blue would have had to do eal with lest we become black or grey listed.
@Just saying: Asot made some very valid points.Take off your red cap and open your sleeping eyes.You as an individual.If this Bill passes into Law.It could come back and bite you in your behinds.They could could cease your assets without notice.Because they suspected you to be a money launderer.That is total bull dung.That is why I keep a limited amount of finances inna Antigua Banks and them.Enough for me to spend when I come there and replenish it at a later date.
This is how most Antiguans wear their masks now……… protect the neck that’s the key to prevent the spread.
Just saying the genesis of the Bill is from the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) so it is legislation that all the islands will have to pass. I am looking at the Bill at this point, but I must tell you that Asot Michael has made some very good observations. If the government does not make certain changes parts of the Bill could be unconstitutional. Also, even though the Bill is concerned about civil forfeiture, I really do not believe that you can forfeit a persons assets without first linking them to some criminal activity. Yes, you can investigate based on suspicion but to move to forfeiture without hard evidence is crazy.
@Tabor thank you very much.
Laws are only deemed, UNCONSTITUTIONAL when they have the potential, to seriously affect those White Collar criminals in the Nation.
RAS SMOOD laws are deemed unconstitutional when they are contrary to provisions of the Constitution. The Constitution is the supreme law and any law that is not in accordance with the Constitution can be declared null ad void by the Court. It is as simple as that and has nothing to do with white collar or blue collar criminals.
Yes it does, Tabor! Don’t play naivety card! Please! Go back since, the beginning of the Nation, as an Independent State.
Look at laws which were, and some which are still, on the books; then, take a look at the arrest, charges, convictions rates, there locations in terms of address, and their incomes!
Then maybe, you can say White collar and blue collar crimes are treated, the same, under the same Laws, in the Nation of Antigua, Barbuda & Redonda. Total Nonsense!
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