The Court of Appeal in The Bahamas has ruled that the ability of the country’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to issue freeze orders is not unconstitutional and that it may request the production of information from banks and trust companies without a court order.
The Attorney General’s office had appealed a Supreme Court ruling in November 2001 that found parts of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) Act – one of the cornerstones in the country’s regulatory regime that was introduced in December 2000 – contradicted the Bahamian Constitution.
In overturning the Supreme Court’s decision, the Attorney General’s office argued successfully that the granting of seizing powers to senior FIU officials did not give civil servants powers only the judiciary should hold under the Constitution.
The respondents did not contest the appeal by the Attorney General’s Office.
The Financial Intelligence Unit Act 2000 established the FIU, described as *”a central, national agency responsible for receiving (and, as permitted, requesting), analysing and disseminating to the competent authorities disclosures of financial information (a) concerning suspected proceeds of crime, and (b) required by national legislation or regulation”.*
Under the Act, The Bahamas FIU’s function is to receive, anlayse, obtain and disseminate information relating to the proceeds of an offence; all disclosures of information required to be made under the Proceeds of Crime Act, 2000 will be made to the FIU.
The FIU Act was “benchmarked” to ensure compliance with acceptable practices in multiple jurisdictions. At that time, the Government pointed out that American, Canadian and Swiss banks — and all other foreign banks operating in The Bahamas — were not expected to have difficulty with provisions and powers of the Financial Intelligence Unit, as they all operate in jurisdictions with similar procedures and powers given to the equivalent agencies.