Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, has denied knowledge about the involvement of Samoa’s High Commission in Australia with Mossack Fonseca.
Speaking during his weekly press conference, Tuilaepa said he couldn’t comment on the issue, as he needs to understand it first.
“I don’t understand it,” he said. “I need to know the context.”
Tuilaepa was asked for a comment following reports that a senior government officer at Samoa’s High Commission in Australia routinely assisted Mossack Fonseca in creating shell companies.
One of those shell companies later faced sanctions for supplying goods to the Syrian government and military. The details are part of the Panama Paper leak, which is making international headlines.
It was not possible to get a comment from the Governor of the Central Bank of Samoa, Maiava Atalina Ainu’u Enari.
Questions sent to her email as the head of Samoa’s Money Laundering Prevention Authority were not responded to at press time.
According to the Panama Papers, however, Mossack Fonseca’s Samoan office appears to have been using the Samoan High Commission in Canberra to assist it in forwarding documents for the creation of shell companies to other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
The Samoan High Commissioner was reported to have initially said in a statement she was not aware of any instances where documents had been received from Mossack Fonseca for legalisation, but later clarified and said some documents had been forwarded for processing only to foreign authorities.
One email from Mossack Fonseca’s Samoan office, dated 16 April 2013, details the process of sending documents from Samoa to Australia and then to the UAE.
“We had forwarded on 15 March 2013 to the Samoa high commission a Certificate of Good Standing for the above company for authentication by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and then to be forwarded to the UAE embassy for further endorsement,” a Mossack Fonseca employee wrote.
Last month, Samoa’s Money Laundering Prevention Authority issued a warning to professional money launderers and international money launderers who may be using Samoa as a stage in their dealings.
“One professional money launderer can move tens, or hundreds of millions of tala out of, or through Samoa in a matter of minutes,” Maiava said in a media statement issued by the Central Bank at the time.
“It is these people we must, and will, shut down to reduce the harm caused to Samoans by money laundering and the crimes that generate laundered funds such as drug crime, corruption, tax evasion, fraud, scams and extortion.”
The warning from Maiava came at the time when Samoa’s Financial Intelligence Unit (F.I.U) started the first of a series of operations to identify and address some of the challenges raised in a report by an international team into Samoa’s efforts to address money laundering.
“The Financial Intelligence Unit knows that most entities that will be examined under this operation are doing the right thing but it is that 1% that are operating outside the law that are on notice.”
According to the statement, money laundering is the process of trying to make illegally-obtained money look like it came from a legal source.
Money laundering goes on, to a greater or lesser extent, in all countries in the world.
The work being done by the F.I.U is to ensure that the protection of Samoa’s financial institutions and systems are absolutely water-tight and adaptable in order to keep up to date with ever changing circumstances in the money laundering arena. The operation is focused on professional money launderers in Samoa, as well as international money launderers who may be using Samoa as a stage in their money laundering processes.
International experience has shown that professional money launderers are more likely to be found in industries such as lawyers, accountants, real estate agents and bankers, as well as financial sectors that commonly handle large amounts of cash, or that can move funds internationally as part of their legitimate business.
The F.I.U has a range of powers and sanctions to address this issue through enforcement of the anti-money laundering legislation, which it expects it may have to exercise for the first time over the coming months.