Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Policy harmonisation needed to curb flow of dirty money

Greater policy harmonisation among government agencies has been urged to curb the flow of dirty money.
As some world leaders have resigned and others are under pressure to resign over the Panama Papers leak concerning international illicit money flows, government agencies in Nepal have also started debating policy harmonisation. "Nepal Investment Board approves mega foreign investments but it now has to be extra careful to investigate backgrounds before approving foreign investments," according to a high source at the Department of Money Laundering Investigation (DMLI).
Likewise, apart from cross checking foreign investments, banks and financial institutions also have to check the backgrounds before handling any transactions or opening accounts for foreign or domestic investors, the source said, adding that Article 6 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act has restricted the opening of accounts for shell companies – offshore bogus companies – and carrying out any transactions with them. "If found out, the banks and financial institutions will be punished under the Act."
Though banks and financial institutions already have to report transactions of over Rs 1 million or suspicious transactions to the Financial Information Unit (FIU) under the central bank, the Panama Papers leak has again raised a serious question over the possibility of such institutions becoming involved 'unknowingly'.
Banks and financial institutions have to be extra careful now, the source said.
Likewise, the government has also to seriously take stock of registered companies to curb the flow of dirty money, the official suggested. "Though Nepal has committed itself to curb the flow of dirty money – earnings through corruption, tax evasion and black marketing – the government itself is promoting black marketing and institutional corruption, and this could damage the economy in the long run."
Meanwhile, the DMLI today called on stakeholders including the revenue administration, the central bank's Financial Information Unit (FIU) and the police, to discuss the possibility of dirty money flowing into the country from offshore shell firms, and also the possible Nepali names in the Panama Papers leak.
Along with the DMLI, the FIU and the Department of Revenue Investigation (DRI) are the key government agencies that deal with issues of money laundering, terrorism financing and foreign exchange misappropriation.
According to DMLI chief Damodar Regmi, the meeting discussed the seven Nepalis fingered by the Panama Papers leak. "We are seriously discussing financial connections, transactions and the possibility of tax evasions," he said, adding that the department has also restarted the profiling of suspicious names that could be in the Panama Papers although the leak has not identified any of the names. "It has, however, claimed that the names will be published in May," Regmi added.
Last year also, the central bank, the DRI and DMLI had tried to investigate names that had figured in rumours following revelations of illegal outflow of money to a Swiss Bank.
Such investigations are very tricky, Regmi said, adding that without any authentic information it's impossible to track the flow of dirty money and the activities of bogus companies. "However, we have restarted the process of profiling names and restarting investigations," he added.
As Nepal has been seeing a steady rise in FDI commitments from the countries identified by the ICIJ as tax havens, the DMLI has said that it will now step up surveillance for FDI coming from these tax havens. There is a need of in-depth investigation, given the huge foreign direct investment (FDI) entering Nepal from tax havens in recent years, Regmi said, adding that statistics from the Department of Industry (DoI) reveals that of the total FDI commitments till last fiscal, about 20 per cent were from tax havens.
The rise in money entering Nepal from tax havens has raised question that it could be illegal money stashed abroad by Nepalis, though the government departments have no proper records of such money.
Apart from enhancing the supervisory capacity to monitor FDI commitments, the government agencies like the DoI and the Office of Company Registrar (OCR) should work together to fight the flow of dirty money.
Regmi said that now onwards the DMLI will adopt 'risk-based supervision system', instead of launching investigating after the incident of money laundering surfaces. But, the DMLI has any success success so far in investigating money laundering cases. The department has not filed any any case against money launderers at the Special Court in the current fiscal year, neither had it filed any case in the last fiscal year too.
Since its establishment some five years ago, the department had filed only 30 money laundering cases at the Special Court. The DMLI was established in 2011 after a huge international pressure on the government. The government had committed the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – a global anti-money laundering body – that it would approve the anti money laundering act in line with global fight against the fight to dirty money flow.
The department has to be strengthened to get result against the cases of money laundering.
Currently, the department has been probing 700 cases and 200 of them are in 'advanced stage', according to Regmi.

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