Bankers Association of T&T President Richard Young says any increase in suspected money laundering is due to better detection by banking staff and a lack of co-operation by customers divulging details on their transactions.
Young further says the nation's banks have been focused on cleaning the local banking system of so-called "dirty money" long before the revelation in Parliament this week about an increase in suspicious banking activity reports to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
In a TV6 News exclusive report last night, Young described the reasons for the increase in suspicious activity reports from 111 in 2010 to 303 in 2011 identified by the Attorney General in the Senate on Tuesday.
"The staff (in the banks) are better trained and they understand the things that they need to do, and as a result, they're a little more attentive and, of course, you'll get more incidents coming under the radar, so to speak," Young said.
He explained the increased detection has manifested itself in an increase in suspicious activity reports but added there remains a lack of data on the true extent of money laundering in Trinidad and Tobago.
"To say it's increased because of the activity is a little difficult because we don't have a full reference point, a base. But I think that many times, the reports are generated because of the lack of co-operation by the customer in divulging what the transaction is all about," Young said.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan told the Senate that of the 111 reports of suspected money laundering received from February 2010 to September 2010, 58 came from the banking sector.
He said the monetary value of those suspicious activity reports is $263 million as he thanked the banking sector for its cooperation.
Young said he was "happy" to hear the Attorney General recognise the excellent work the banking sector is doing."
Finance Minister Larry Howai, himself a former banking executive, told the Senate the FIU's estimate for suspected money laundering in T&T for 2010 and 2011 totalled over $700m.
Asked about this, Young said, "I don't have a reference point to say what is the extent of money laundering. Let's not forget, money laundering doesn't necessarily just involve proceeds from drugs as we say."
He said money laundering could also involve tax evasion.
Young also said the banks are now required by law to report any transactions they are not comfortable with.
"For example, if they (customers) are depositing a large amount of money they don't normally deposit, the banks are obligated to ensure, as you say, the source of the funds. And if, in fact, the customer is not forthcoming and, you know, refuses to divulge the information, we have options. We may refuse to take the deposit," Young said.