Formed in December 2000, The Bahamas Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) is just one reflection of the country’s resolve to maintain its own responsible, independent path against the backdrop of evolving standards for international financial centres.
FIUs came into being during the past 14 years, as a liaison between financial institutions on one hand and law enforcement and/or prosecutional authorities on the other hand. They have become the liaison between similar agencies among jurisdictions and are the national agencies responsible for receiving, and as permitted requesting, analysing and disseminating to the competent authorities, disclosures of financial information relating to suspected proceeds of crime, or required by national legislation or regulation in order to counter money laundering.
The Bahamas FIU is one of 69 now established worldwide, working together in an informal association called the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. The Bahamas serves on the Egmont’s Outreach Working Group that has responsibility for sharing the Egmont’s vision with other developing FIUs, and monitoring and sponsoring their application for membership in the Egmont Group. In this connection, The Bahamas has had the opportunity to review the operations of a number of Eastern Caribbean countries. Similar work with many other Caribbean countries is continuing.
The Government of The Bahamas has placed a great deal of support behind the country’s FIU to ensure it is effective in carrying out its mandate. In fact, the freezing order powers of the FIU in The Bahamas exceed those presently possessed in the UK, Canada, Australia and Israel. By comparison, the versions of FIUs presently existing in the Channel Islands, Bermuda and BVI, which lack statutory footing, do not have such powers.
There is a staff complement of 16 Professionals – all Bahamian. An integral part of the FIU’s work since 2000 has been the provision of training for financial institutions, and the Unit also has collaborated with other regulators in providing training to participants within the industry. Additionally, the FIU provides training in respect to its Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Transactions Guidelines.
Operating as an autonomous body under the Office of the Attorney General, the FIU in The Bahamas has the administrative power to issue an injunction to stop anyone from completing a transaction for a period of up to three days upon receipt of a suspicious transaction report (STR), if it considers such an action to be necessary or appropriate. Upon receipt of a request from the Commissioner of Police or a foreign FIU, a bank account may be frozen for up to five days by the FIU, if it relates to an offense under the Bahamas Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA), which covers drug trafficking, money laundering and other indictable crimes. In 2002, 49 requests were received from foreign FIUs as compared with 22 requests in 2001, a sign that FIUs continue to grow and improve working relationships.
The FIU’s goal is to deal expeditiously and effectively with reports that are received. According to FIU Director Wilton Strachan, *“Although the FIU is not an investigative body, it does become actively involved in seeking out information on suspicious or fraudulent activities, which have been reported to the unit.”*
Like other statutory FIUs, the FIU in The Bahamas is empowered to require the production of information it considers necessary for its functions. Failure to disclose this information is punishable by a fine of $50,000, or a prison term or both. Bound by its own laws, penalties for tipping off a suspected party or leaking information are severe, including imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $50,000.
The continued presence of a well-functioning FIU in The Bahamas has made this country’s counter money laundering regime more robust than ever. Reports are that 160 STRs were received in 2002 as compared with 246 STRs received in the year prior.