The head of Samoa’s Money Laundering Prevention Authority, Maiava Atalina Ainuu-Enari, has 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 is quoted as saying in a media statement issued by the Central Bank yesterday.
“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 comes as Samoa’s Financial Intelligence Unit (F.I.U), which is located within the Central Bank of Samoa, begins 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 evaluation report compiled in 2014 commended Samoa for progress made in recent years.
However, it required that Samoa undergo “certain activities and actions”. The statement from the Central Bank does not specify what it means by “certain activities and actions”.
But Maiava said: “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.
The F.I.U expects all financial institutions that come under the Money Laundering Prevention Act 2007 to know their obligations and be prepared for a heightened level of scrutiny of their transactions, records and anti-money laundering processes during this operation.
The Financial Intelligence Unit would particularly like financial institutions to re-acquaint themselves with Section 10 of the M.L.P.A which provides the F.I.U the power to enter financial institutions, examine and copy records without a warrant and Section 12 which allows the F.I.U to execute search warrants on financial institutions as well as the premises of their employees where circumstances dictate.
Entities that do not receive a visit from the Financial Intelligence Unit should be aware that their transactions are still being scrutinised under an expanded financial analysis process that has recently commenced.
The F.I.U will be working more closely with banks in particular during this current operation to ensure that they are doing all they can to report suspicious transactions, reject business that involves the proceeds of crime and assist with the restraint and forfeiture of criminal assets.