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Fighting terror

Monday, June 20 2011

WE are glad the Senate last Tuesday passed the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2011 to meet this country’s obligations to the world community to fight the funding of terrorism and the laundering of illicit money.

As we understand it, Trinidad and Tobago is seen globally as being on a “grey list” of sorts — having partially acted against illicit money — but still being at risk of blacklisting, and in fact now being desirous of achieving a fully clean slate.

Minister of National Security, Brig John Sandy, said he hoped TT gets a decent rating at the upcoming meeting in Mexico of the 130-nation watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). He was optimistic that this country’s legislative efforts so far would save us from being relegated to the FATF blacklist.

The importance of the Bill was clearly spelt out by Independent Senator Subhas Ramkhelawan, who said the TT businesses are already losing their foreign business partners due to this country not being fully compliant with FATF. He said firms such as Ameritrade TD have withdrawn from business contact with TT.

“The situation is grave, the situation is grim, and real, concerted, effective and urgent action by way of legislation must be taken,” warned Ramkhelawan, an international securities broker.

Ramkhelawan even envisaged a day when TT nationals would no longer be able to use their Visa cards abroad, or send money to their children studying abroad, if TT were to be isolated from the world financial community due to non-compliance with FATF.

Of course, there is also a broader moral duty on this country to be a good “world citizen” and to prevent the flows of illicit international finance that is the life-blood of the illegal drug trade and which funds acts of terrorism.

The damage done by the illicit drug trade, and the money laundering that facilitates it, can surely be seen right here in this nation’s capital in the faces of misery of the hundreds of half-crazed lost souls who roam this nation’s streets in a state of vagrancy. Then there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of persons, who are killed every year as rival gangs fight for drug turf. At the same time, as one Independent Senator noted, TT has simply too many suspicious business premises being set up by foreign interests which don’t even seem to have a local clientele but which one suspects are merely fronts for the laundering of dirty dollars for the drug trade and/or terrorism.

So strong and resolute anti-laundering legislation is sorely needed both for the well-being of this nation and other nations in the world community.

We are pleased to see that the Bill largely answers the call of FATF for TT to improve ways to “identify and freeze terrorist assets”, to confiscate funds related to money laundering, and to establish a fully operational Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

We note the concerns of several Senators who claimed the Senate was asked to rush a Bill (as sent from the Lower House) when instead the Senate should have fine-tuned the Bill and sent it back to the House.

For example, how does one stop charities being used as fronts for terrorist — financing/money laundering, while also not punishing innocent and unwitting donors?

Further we note the burden of Senators having to mull at least three main parent Acts — the Anti-Terrorism Act, Proceeds of Crime Act and FIU Act — plus their various amendment Bills.

However, the Government has clearly decided to go with the legislative “half-loaf” in hand rather than risk trying to get a perfect Bill by reconvening a last-minute House sitting on Friday which might have thrown up even more amendments that would not have been able to be passed (by House or Senate) in time for the prorogation of Parliament.

The Government has given the undertaking to review this legislation in six months time, to incorporate both any suggestions made by FATF and those concerns expressed by Senators last Tuesday.

We are satisfied that while valid concerns may exist, this is complex legislation for which the Government is doing its best to meet tight deadlines, and which we accept as being a work in progress.

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