Australian bank agrees to $919M fine for money laundering

By ROD McGUIRK 24 September 2020, 12:00AM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Westpac, Australia’s second-largest bank, agreed to pay a 1.3 billion Australian dollar ($919 million) fine for breaches of anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing laws, the largest ever civil penalty in Australia, a financial crime regulator said on Thursday.

The regulator, AUSTRAC, said it had agreed with Westpac to the penalty after the bank admitted failing to report 19.5 million international money transfers worth more than $7 billion between November 2013 and September 2018.

If the Federal Court rules the penalty is appropriate, it will become Australia’s biggest civil penalty.

It will eclipse an AU$700 million ($495 million) settlement paid by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the nation’s biggest bank, in 2018 for similar but less extensive reporting failures.

AUSTRAC chief executive Nicole Rose said the settlement sent a strong message to industry that the regulator would take action to ensure Australia’s financial system remained strong so it could not be exploited by criminals.

“Our role is to harden the financial system against serious crime and terrorism financing and this penalty reflects the serious and systemic nature of Westpac’s non-compliance,” Rose said in a statement.

Westpac chief executive Peter King, who was appointed in April after the allegations were made public, said the bank was committed to ensuring the mistakes were not repeated.

“I would like to apologize sincerely for the bank’s failings,” King said in a statement.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the size of the proposed fine should serve as a wake-up call for the banking industry.

By ROD McGUIRK 24 September 2020, 12:00AM

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