BELIZE CITY, Mon. Feb. 23, 2015–It’s far easier to move money from Belize via an offshore company than to deposit those funds in a local commercial bank, especially with more stringent banking requirements which have been implemented as part of the new anti-money laundering regime here in Belize.
If a citizen shows up at the bank with an unusual amount of money to deposit—or any sizeable sum for that matter—that customer will most likely face a routine probe into the source of the funds and if the cash transaction is deemed suspicious, it could be cause for an immediate alert to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
Less than two weeks ago, we reported on information published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) under the Swiss Leaks project, indicating that US$54.8 million had been deposited from Belize at the HSBC bank in Switzerland, and 9 Belizean citizens were included along with the clients of several offshore companies which had established accounts at the foreign bank.
Of course, the number one question is: “Who are those 9 Belizeans?” and secondly, “Are these legitimate cash transactions, or ill-gotten funds hidden overseas?”
When we requested further information from ICIJ, they acknowledged receiving our request, but told us, “We will contact you back if we decide to partner with your media organization for this project.”
We’ve heard nothing further to date.
We had also tried reaching the FIU in Belize to see if they felt the matter was worth investigating. However, we have been advised that the FIU could only investigate based on specific information which has to be highly credible, and there would have to be evidence that the funds are the proceeds of crime, and linked to Belize.
Even if the funds were deemed to be the proceeds of crime, the matter would immediately fall under the FIU’s purview to prosecute only if the criminal activity was done within Belize.
We were made to understand that offshore companies are not required to report their financial transactions to the FIU, and there is no agency which regularly polices their financial dealings.
However, the International Financial Services Commission (IFSC) of Belize, the supervisory authority over the international financial services sector, consisting primarily of offshore banks, says that, “While developing its offshore sector, Belize has not overlooked the fact that the offshore vehicles may be used by unscrupulous elements to launder the proceeds of drug trafficking or other illicit activities. Simultaneously with the enactment of the Offshore Banking Act in 1996, Belize also passed the Money Laundering (Prevention) Act which established mechanisms and procedures to ensure that the country’s financial institutions are not used to disguise the source of illicit funds.”
The IFSC can report suspicious matters to the FIU for investigation.
We understand that to date, though, the FIU has not begun an investigation into the possible movement of illicit funds outside Belize.