The Miscellaneous Provisions (Proceeds of Crime, Anti-Terrorism, Financial Intelligence Unit of Trinidad and Tobago) (No 2) Bill 2014 primarily targets money laundering, but lists 21 categories of crime, which the Government has argued gives it a broad spectrum to combat crime and terrorism.
Throughout the debate on the bill piloted by Finance Minister Larry Howai, Opposition and Independent concerns centred on the omission of a certain clause they said made for an escape route for some white-collar criminals, and also did not address that type of crime retroactively.
In earlier sittings, Senator Helen Drayton had pointed out the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill was modelled after the UK Proceeds of Crime Act of 2002. She raised that a loophole in a section of the bill could create problems similar to that of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice Act, and undermine the intention of the amendment.
Carrying on these concerns yesterday, Senator Dr Ralph Balgobin said the bill narrowly defined three sets of people and that it would not be inconceivable someone could call him- or herself something else and thus escape the reach of the legislation. In summing up to launch the committee stage of yesterday’s sitting, Howai said the bill had been heavily guided by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and had in past sittings said the bill would help Trinidad and Tobago meet international standards set by the FATF to counter the financing of crime and terrorism.
The bill makes money laundering a stand-alone offence and Howai has said “gangsters”, drug lords, terrorists and transnational criminals take the proceeds of crime, convert them into assets that appear legitimately gained, often enabling them to lead opulent lifestyles.
He cautioned, however, balance had to be sought in going after assets, including property, as this went directly to the heart of the Constitution. Responding yesterday to concerns as well that the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) needed Government backing to pack a bigger punch, Howai said considerable investment had gone into that agency, which is headed by Susan Francois, sister of slain senior counsel Dana Seetahal.
Leader of Government Business, Ganga Singh, addressing concerns over the perceived narrowness of the bill, said the legislation contained 21 categories of crime and the Government would not have deliberately left anything out. He said not all indictable offences give rise to proceeds of crime. The bill was eventually passed, following some amendments.