Almost half billion US dollars laundered in Trinidad and Tobago

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — More than three billion dollars (US$467 million) were laundered in Trinidad and Tobago over the last four years, according to information reported to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Susan Francois, director of the unit, disclosed on Wednesday. 

According to Newsday, she said the sum was reported by financial institutions and businesses as the suspected receipts of criminal activity.

“This was not legal money, this was money that the financial institutions and businesses reasonably suspected came from crime,” she said.

She noted that the huge amount, which only represented the sums reported, showed the attraction of crime “and that is why people take the risk, that is why they conduct criminal activity, that is why they commit crime, because of the huge profits which are generated.” 

Francois was speaking at the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC) in Maracas at the launch of the Money Laundering and Financial Crimes Institute in Trinidad and Tobago, a joint effort by the University of the Southern Caribbean and the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business. 

The two institutions have teamed up with the Florida-based Money Laundering and Financial Crimes Institute (MLFC) which itself is a joint venture between the St Thomas University and ComplianceAid, an international consulting firm specialising in anti-money laundering; countering the financing of terrorism and preventing financial crimes, Newsday reported.

Francois added that, while people consider money laundering as white collar crime, the three billion dollars that were reported came from violent crime, while white collar crime does not usually involve violence, or injury to the person. 

“But that three billion dollars, a lot of it could have come from kidnapping; murder for profit; extortion; intimidation and related offences such as drug trafficking; human trafficking; trafficking in arms, and ammunition and those crimes cause destruction, serious bodily harm, if not death to persons,” she said.

She pointed out that tracing the money back to the criminal was necessary in order to detect the crime, to prosecute it, and to dismantle the criminal networks and seize and confiscate their criminal wealth. 

She said measures to deter and detect the crime were crucial strategies in combating the crime of money-laundering. 

According to Francois, just as drug traffickers find inventive ways to hide and smuggle their drugs, so the money launderer will find new ways to disguise and move the money earned from his illegal activity. 

“This is why education and awareness are necessary tools, tools which are necessary to create a hostile environment for organised criminality,” she noted.

Francois said that under the existing legislation there are about 2,000 institutions registered with the FIU as being responsible for implementing anti-money laundering laws and regulations combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) and each of these institutions must have a compliance officer, and an alternate compliance officer, a total of 4,000 persons. 

She said these officers need to be trained.

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