AFTER being on the "brink" of being blacklisted by intergovernmental body the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Trinidad and Tobago has now been removed from the dark- grey list and will no longer be directly monitored by the organisation, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has announced.
She was speaking yesterday during the sitting of the Lower House at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain. She noted in February 2010, FATF publicly identified Trinidad and Tobago as having strategic anti-money laundering combating financing of terrorism (AMLCFT) deficiencies and was rated "partially compliant or non-compliant" with 15 of the 16 key and core regulations of the FATF.
"Yesterday at the FATF plenary in Paris ... the FATF agreed to move Trinidad from the list of countries with strategic AMLCFT deficiencies," she reported.
She noted the FATF welcomed this country's "significant progress" in improving its AMLCFT regime and "notes that Trinidad and Tobago has established the legal and regulatory framework to meet its commitments in its action plan regarding the strategic deficiencies that the FATF had identified in February 2010".
She also read correspondence from director of AMLCFT compliance unit, Sherene Murray-Bailey, and Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) director Susan Francois, who attended the plenary, in which they reported that FATF had agreed "that we will no longer be under their monitoring process (and) we will be removed from the list of countries with strategic AMLCFT deficiencies".
FATF was also pleased this country had its first money laundering charge.
"We have been removed from the dark-grey list. Mr Speaker, it means we are not going to be put on any black list. Mr Speaker, it means that we are not going to be placed on any white, blue, yellow ... brown list. Mr Speaker, it means that the only colours that will apply to Trinidad and Tobago will be the red, white and black," Persad-Bissessar said.
She noted that this was "no small feat" and there were several larger countries that were deficient and continue to be monitored. She also read correspondence from CFATF director Calvin Wilson in which he praised the efforts of this Government and requested help in assisting ten other countries in becoming compliant. He also invited the country to chair the CFATF International Co-operation Review Group when the current chair demits office at the November 2012 plenary meeting and requested a meeting with Persad-Bissessar.
"From dark-grey list, from doom and gloom, now people who can lead in the area," she pointed out.
She recalled that back in 2010 there were reports, including from Opposition members, expressing concern that this country could face sanctions internationally for failing to deal with anti-money laundering and the picture painted was "very dark and very gloomy for our prospects".
She added: "Indeed, our image was sullied by predicting that we were on the verge of being blacklisted by the FATF.
"As a responsible Government we did not panic ... and to broadcast the deleterious effects of the non-compliance with the FATF recommendations because we did not wish to undermine investor confidence. As we always say, our commitment first is to Trinidad and Tobago," she explained.
She noted the Government chose to take deliberate steps to ensure immediate action to remedy the situation, including setting up a national AMLCFT committee and legislative amendments including the FIU Amendment Act 2011, the Anti-Terrorism Amendment Act 2011, the Trafficking in Persons Act 2011, The Financial Obligation Financing of Terrorism Regulations 2011, The FIU Regulations 2011, and the Miscellaneous Provisions FIU and Anti-Terrorism Act 2012.
"Throughout 2011 ... five pieces of legislation, substantive legislation, that was necessary and required by the FATF for Trinidad and Tobago ... to avoid falling off the cliff and going into the gloomy depths of a blacklisted country," she explained.
She stressed she is committed to ensuring the AMLCFT regime is effectively implemented to bring this country closer to full compliance. She noted the laws had been strengthened and it was up to citizens to enforce them, adding that there were too many reports of money laundering and suspicious bank transactions.
"It is time for action and those involved in money laundering must know ... that they can run but they cannot hide," she commented.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, speaking with the media during the tea break, said the Opposition People's National Movement (PNM) was very happy to hear that the country was removed from the FATF list of observation, "whether it is light- grey or dark-grey".
He said the Government was flailing around, desperate for some good news and the Prime Minister used the statement to try and give praise and credit to two ministers who are discredited and under attack from the national community—new National Security Minister Jack Warner "who has virtually nothing to do with this" and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.
—with reporting by Ria Taitt