From 2015 to March 2019, almost 100 people and groups have been added to the state’s consolidated list of terrorists whose assets in local financial institutions were ordered to be frozen.
The list, which includes 96 people and groups as of March 25, 2019, also orders local banks not to do any business with those people and entities.
The latest addition to the list was the Pakistan-based Tariq Gidar Group by a High Court order on March 25.
The first person was Trinidadian Imam Kareem Ibrahim, who was convicted in 2012 for conspiring to commit a terrorist act at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in 2006 by exploding fuel tanks and the fuel pipeline under the airport. He was sentenced to life in prison by a US District Judge in 2012. Ibrahim’s name was first added to the list, which is available on the Financial Intelligence Unit’s website, in 2015.
Banks in T&T are bound by Section 55(3) of the Proceeds of Crime Act, chapter 11:27, to report any suspicious financial transactions within 14 days of a transaction if they believe the funds used were the proceeds of a specified offence.
Failure to do so can land bank staff in jail for two years and lead to them being fined $500,000 on summary conviction. If they are indicted and convicted, they can face a fine of $3 million and a seven-year jail sentence.
But Jamaica Money Market Brokers (JMMB) managing director and chief executive officer Nigel Romano told Guardian Media there is no set criteria for reporting a transaction but rather certain red flags that bank employees must look for. Romano is also a director of the Bankers’ Association of T&T (BATT).
“I don’t think there is a definition but there are red flags that you look for in making that determination and once we report, the authorities will do their own investigation.
The point is what you are doing is trying to establish the bonafides of the transaction, so somebody who is doing business with you and is a small business person and you know the business, you are not going to query every transaction,” he explained.
“Somebody who comes in to open an account, whether business or personal, you are going to ask—why do you need this account? Where would the money come from? What kind of deposits can we expect?
The volume of deposits and the average size of deposits—then we would monitor that against the activity.”
He said the JMMB Know Your Customer (KYC) policy is used by bank staff to weed out potential illegal activities.
Using the example of customers depositing large sums of cash from vehicle sales, Romano said, “I would say not accepting funds from customers is overkill. It’s stupid because in that case, you could probably show them a copy of the certified copy of the vehicle to show what type of vehicle it was, along with the receipt.
“The point is, you don’t want to stop people from doing business and for me, it is important that if you have any concerns, you are reporting it. And is it every week you are coming in and saying you sold a vehicle?
“Your bankers should know you, that is what KYC is about. For instance, if I know you are working and every three years, you sell a vehicle—that’s not an issue but if every week you come in with money and say you sold a vehicle, that is a problem.”
Large sums of cash are always a red flag and if employees are suspicious and decide to report the transaction, there is a specific criterion which must be followed.
“We can’t tell the person we are going to report the transaction, you are not supposed to warn them, that is very clear. It is our duty to report, but the point is we also want to be very clear that we will not encourage or promote illegal activity in any way, shape or form.”
Asked if using KYC might allow transactions that are not legal to slip through the cracks, Romano said, “Over time I don’t think so, again KYC—the point is that business runs in a certain way and like anything else, the outliers are what should cause you to question and investigate. You ought to file your report and let the authorities investigate.”
He said the banks also use software that will flag any name from the consolidated list that appears in their system.
“Those lists are updated all the time and the software is also updated immediately, so if somebody comes to open an account, we will check the list and the software will flag them.”
He said in the event someone who already has an account with the bank is put on the consolidated list, the bank has the power to freeze their assets and inform the FIU.
“If they are on the list they shouldn’t have an account with the bank, because we would not open the account.
If you have an account in the bank and you come on the list, the bank can close the account or it can leave it open.
However, if we leave it open we have to report quarterly to the FIU.”
Reporter: Sharlene Rampersad
Reporter: Sharlene Rampersad