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NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Not seeing the tree for the forest


NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Not seeing the tree for the forest

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“Large-scale launderers know that the place to hide a tree is in the forest.” – Barbados Attorney-General’s Office.

ANYTIME I WANT to hide a tree, that is where I go. But the above one-liner seems like a rather flippant way of dismissing the United States State Department’s recent report on money laundering.

It cited Barbados among the world’s major money launderers; along with possibly every other English-speaking country in the Caribbean, and several dozen more around the globe.

The 2017 edition of the “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, published in March, said of Barbados that “Narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and firearms trafficking are major sources of illicit funds in the country.”

It added not only were financial institutions being used, but money was also being laundered “through the purchase of real estate, vehicles, vessels, and jewellery as well as through a variety of businesses”.

The Attorney General’s Office just pouted, admitting that, yes, you can indeed find all of those “generic” crimes, too, but we are so small they don’t amount to more than, let’s see, a very small sandcastle on Accra Beach.

It instead complained it was “misleading” to label Barbados because “while the areas of criminal activity cited are present in the country, Barbados’ best intelligence does not support the view that they are at proportions which would have a significant impact on the local economy, or cause the faintest ripple in the international financial sector”.

Not the faintest ripple. It added: “Funds which may be laundered in Barbados are miniscule when measured on the scale of international laundering.” So anything too large would definitely tip the scale.

You see, money launderers want to hide their illegal tree in the big money-laundering forests of the world, not in little patches of bougainvillea we have here.

The State Department also made some recommendations, but the AG did not even bother to acknowledge them.

For example, that Government should spend more on its Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), as well as law enforcement, supervisory agencies, and prosecutors to make sure they were fully staffed and had the capacity to perform their duties.

It said Government should take a more aggressive approach in overseeing the financial sector and Barbados should become a party to the UN Convention against Corruption. The Government should also continue developing “new non-conviction-based asset forfeiture laws to increase the efficacy of asset recovery procedures”. This was needed because “Barbados’ criminal law limits the government’s ability to seize assets acquired through criminal activity without conviction”.

But the AG’s Office didn’t want to get bogged down in any of that. So while acknowledging the trade in illegal drugs had the greatest potential to distort the economy, it said “there is a big gap between potential and actuality”.

And instead of how far along the money launderers might now be in trying to close gap, it chose instead to end its statement on the matter with a platitude, no doubt more designed for local consumption than foreign.

“The authorities in Barbados will continue to do all in their power to ensure that this country remains a clean and safe jurisdiction in which to live, work and do business.”

But, according to the report, we seem to be already losing that battle.

Patrick Hoyos is a journalist and publisher specialising in business. Email: [email protected]