IN 2020 alone, while TT and the rest of the world were in an economic crisis caused by the covid19 pandemic, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) noted 1,831 suspicious transactions in this country, reflecting a movement of $27 billion from suspect criminal activities such as tax evasion, fraud and drug trafficking.
In laying the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) 2020 report in the House of Representatives on Friday, Imbert spelt out some startling facts to show that while the pandemic was arguably at its worst last year, high levels of suspected white-collar crime were being noted.
In that period, Imbert said, the FIU received 1,831 suspicious transaction reports (STRs)/suspicious activity reports (SARs) valued at $27 billion.
This was the highest number of STRs/SARs the FIU has received for any year in its ten years' existence. Imbert said suspected crimes of tax evasion, money laundering, fraud and drug trafficking featured in the FIU report.
Despite the ongoing global health and socio-economic challenges caused by the covid19 pandemic, he said, people must remain vigilant against white-collar criminals.
He observed, "In this reporting period, the most common suspected criminal conduct were tax evasion (539), money laundering (530), suspicious financial activity (401), fraud (205) and drug trafficking (92)."
Imbert said these five suspected criminal activities accounted for 97 per cent of the total number of STR/SAR reports submitted to the FIU and 99.89 per cent of the total monetary value of the 1,831 STRs/SARs.
"Of the 1,831 STRs/SARs received, 1,517 were completed transactions, whilst 314 were attempted transactions. The number of suspicious transactions stopped by reporting entities therefore rose to 314 in 2020, from 86 in 2019."
Imbert added, "There was also a substantial increase in the monetary value of the attempted suspicious transactions when compared with 2019."
There was a 141 per cent increase in these reports from financial institutions, he said, and an 80 per cent increase in submissions from listed businesses, over the same period
The FIU received 184 requests on 598 subjects from law-enforcement agencies last year, compared to 221 requests it received on 636 in 2019. Imbert said there was a 17 per cent decrease in these requests between 2019 and 2020.
Out of the 184 requests, he said, "Cash seizures relating to money laundering, which totalled 61, was the highest suspected criminal conduct of the requests received, and represented one-third of the number of requests.
"This was a 135 per cent increase from the 26 cash seizure requests received in the previous period."
He said the FIU received 12 STRs/SARs on suspected financing of terrorism in 2020, compared to 97 in 2019. This represented "an 88 per cent decrease of financing of terrorism-related STRs/SARs and may be attributable to the apparent collapse of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)."
Imbert said the demonetisation of the old paper-based $100 note in 2019 saw "a significant increase in the submissions of STRs/SARs by reporting entities, with 750 received."
On compliance with the FIU, Imbert said, "For this reporting period, 329 entities registered with the FIU, bringing the total number of registrants to 3,337 as at September 30, 2020. This represented a ten per cent increase from the previous reporting period."
In terms of terrorist property reports, he said the FIU "observed a continued improvement in compliance by reporting entities with their adoption of sanctions screening of their client database."
Imbert identified the enactment of the Real Estate Act last June, the introduction of the E-money issuer order 2020 last July, and amendments to the FIU Act and the Proceeds of Crime Act amongst the legislative steps taken by Government to bolster TT's anti-money laundering/ counter financing of terrorism/counter proliferation financing (AML/CFT/CPF) regime.
He explained that one of the things the Real Estate Act will do is "assist in the detection and prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing through the registration and regulation of real estate agents."
Imbert promised the FIU would be helped in its fight against white-collar crime with additional legislative measures which Government will bring to Parliament this year.
Imbert also said to improve its operations, the FIU increased its staff by 22 per cent, from 49 to 60 positions, in November 2019, and increased security protecting its web server and network.