OPPOSITION Senator Wade Mark yesterday hit a hefty hike in the penalty for money laundering as being a “cruel and unusual punishment” in the Committee Stage of a bill to facilitate mutual assistance between TT and other nations for criminal investigations and prosecutions and recovery of the proceeds of crime. The Mutual Assistance Bill 2017 imposes a penalty of up to a maximum of a $50 million fine and 30 years for a crime tried in the High Court (indictably) or $25 million and 15 years if tried in the magistrate court (summarily). Mark said, “This is cruel. It is unusual punishment, and we do not understand the justification for this imposition...The Attorney General (Faris Al Rawi) has not justified why this hefty fine of $50 million from $25 million and then Madam President a lifetime of imprisonment. This is what 30 years is equivalent to. So we need to get some kind of justification.”
Al-Rawi replied similar penalties were prescribed for the Proceeds of Crime Act (under amendment yesterday) as for Anti-Terrorism legislation. Secondly those listed penalties are the maximum figures allowable but in fact are subject to a judge’s discretion. Thirdly, he said the stiff penalty reflects a proportionality to the prevalence of the crime, noting that locally money-laundering offences total almost the country’s entire National Budget. In the debate earlier, the AG said the year 2016 top 2017 had seen $22.5 billion in suspicious offences reported by the watchdog Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU.) Independent Senator Melissa Ramkissoon also wondered at the $50 million fine by saying the TT Police Service web-site spoke only of money-laundering offences of up to $3 million.
Al-Rawi replied that there are pending “quite a cases well beyond $3 million” in worth. He said the hefty fines reflect the level of Parliament’s scorn of money-laundering. Upon a committee vote, the penalties remained. Opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen asked for a deferral in Parliament making money-laundering also triable at the Magistrate Court (in addition to the High Court as previously). In reply, the AG said it is the Director of Public Prosecutions’ recommendation. Al-Rawi said 27 money-laundering cases are before the law courts, some since 2012, and none of them has yet made it past the preliminary inquiry stage.