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SVGFIU – ‘Proceeding full steam ahead’

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by Financial Intelligence Unit Fri May 9, 2014

Anniversaries are a time of celebration and reflection on goals accomplished and on May 6th, 2014, the St Vincent and the Grenadines Financial Intelligence Unit (SVGFIU) celebrated 12 years of a continued commitment to taking the profit out of crime. However, in the life of an organization, it is also the time to pause and ask the question, what next?{{more}}

This question has been asked and answered by the SVGFIU many times over the last 12 years, as the national centralized agency for the analysis and dissemination of suspicious transaction information to the competent authorities and the investigation of relevant offences. As we celebrate this year, the answer to the question ‘what next?’ comes in the form of the Proceeds of Crime Act, 2013 (POCA 2013).

POCA 2013 was passed in December 2013 and came into effect on April 9th, 2014. This Act repeals and replaces the Proceeds of Crime and Money Laundering (Prevention) Act, Cap 181 of the Revised Laws of 2009.

Whenever legislation is passed, some of the key concerns of the public are, or should be:

Why POCA 2013? What’s new? How will this advance the work of the FIU and other stakeholders to the betterment of St Vincent and the Grenadines? And what safeguards are built in for the protection of the public?

So, why POCA 2013? POCA 2013 is a response to the ever evolving threat posed by criminal elements and their ability to distance themselves from their criminal activity. It consolidates and updates the law relating to confiscation and restraint of assets. The Act further implements a number of provisions in compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Recommendations and remedies deficiencies in the Anti-Money Laundering (AML), Counter-Financing of Terrorism (CFT) regime of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which have been highlighted by the International Monetary Fund and Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) following the last onsite inspection of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ AML/CFT regime in 2009.

What’s new: There are a number of updates to the confiscation; money laundering; regulatory, supervisory and enforcement provisions; the application of the Confiscated Assets Fund; and chief among them is the introduction of civil recovery proceedings. Civil Recovery Proceedings provide for civil forfeiture of all property, not just currency, exercisable in relation to any property, whether or not proceedings have been initiated for an offence in connection with said property

How will this advance the work: The provisions above will strengthen the existing regime and provide a more targeted assault on criminals where it hurts most: their pockets. In our society, there are kingpins who have a number of foot soldiers who conduct illicit activity on their behalf. The issue of unexplainable assets such as houses, boats, luxury cars and other items, acquired through the work of foot soldiers, but enjoyed by the kingpin, can now be addressed. With these provisions, these assets can be recovered by the recovery authority, the Honourable Attorney General, once it is shown that they were derived from some criminal conduct, even if the owner of the assets has not been convicted of a criminal offence. Like civil cash forfeiture, these proceedings are in rem, that is, against the property, and not against the individual.

How is the public protected: the Act only applies to property derived from or intended for use in illegal activity and therefore does not infringe on the individual’s constitutional right to hold property. Additionally, all proceedings require an order of the Court. It must be proven on a balance of probabilities in the case of civil recovery that property was obtained through conduct of one of a number of kinds, each of which would be unlawful under the criminal law of St Vincent and the Grenadines. There is also provision for compensation to be paid to an aggrieved party. There is also a limitation period within which proceedings may be brought for the recovery of property and exceptions and exemptions as to property that may be recovered.

Celebrations to mark our 12th anniversary took the form of a church service on Sunday, May 4; appearance on ‘Police on the Beat’ Radio programme on Monday, May 5; and charitable donations on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.

As we set our sights on the next anniversary, we again ask what next? The SVGFIU is currently reviewing all legislation and subsidiary legislation with a view to ensuring the continued social and economic stability of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The role of the SVGFIU in combatting crime and ensuring the security of all nationals and visitors alike must be underscored. Crimes such as money laundering, by their very nature involve the committal of other serious crimes. It is essentially a crime built on another crime. Predicate offences for money laundering include drug trafficking, murder for hire, theft, trafficking in arms and ammunition, as well as human trafficking. Therefore, if we launch an attack on the reason for committing these crimes, which is financial benefit, we also help to decrease a number of other serious underlying crimes. Never must we be content to sit idly by and allow criminal acts to go unpunished, as it is indeed a very slippery slope. Safety and security must be a key pillar in the development of our democratic civilization.

We look forward to the continued good working relationship with all stakeholders, including the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, the Customs and Excise Department, financial institutions and designated non-financial businesses and professions and all other local, regional and international partners and thank you for your continued support, as we work to decrease the effect of the scourge of financial crime and all serious crimes in our society.

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