By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Minister of Tourism yesterday said the Government was hoping “over time” to reassure the Bahamian commercial banking industry that it was safe to accept deposits, and transact business, with a legalised web shop gaming industry.
Speaking with Tribune Business outside the House of Assembly, Obie Wilchcombe, who has responsibility for gaming, acknowledged that the Canadian-owned banks and Commonwealth Bank have publicly stated they will not be accepting web shop deposits.
Only Bank of the Bahamas has indicated it will do business with the sector, after receiving clearance from its US correspondent bank, JP Morgan Chase, to do so.
“It’s one of these situations that you have got to continue to work and negotiate,” Mr Wilchcombe said. “I think the concern for the Canadian banks has been integrity, because of all the issues raised before relevant to money laundering, and money being raised to finance terrorism.
“We understand all of that and that is why we have been working with them. We are not trying to push a situation without demonstrating how the integrity can be dealt with on a sustained basis. We hope to demonstrate over that the system can have the highest integrity, it can be approved by international agencies like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that are concerned about the areas that they are concerned about.
“You don’t want to cause the entire banking system to fall apart or its integrity to be questioned. That will hurt us as a country.”
Mr Wilchcombe said that convincing the banks about the web shop industry’s integrity might require greater use of technology.
“That’s why we brought in a high level technology company to help us, and I believe that they want to ensure that there can be a stream of checking so that the situation is not being manipulated or used for the wrong reasons,” he added.
“We, at all times, have to find the right way to do it. Technology will definitely help us in that direction. We have to constantly work it. We are doing something other countries have not done.We are the pioneers, but the pioneers must perfect their system to sell it.”
Prime Minister Perry Christie, meanwhile, said: “I met with the banks. The banks indicated that they were being driven in terms of their acceptability of web shop funds and casino funds by their corresponding banks.
“In the case of the Bank of the Bahamas, it is JP Morgan. JP Morgan has certified that the Bank of the Bahamas can receive those funds. Royal Bank of Canada has told us that funds processed by the Bank of the Bahamas from web shops could be acceptable to them.”
He added: “With respect to the other banks, I can only assume that they have done complete checks of client accounts, that they know exactly what they are saying and it is their call.
“When they met with me they spoke about their corresponding banks and having the concern that those banks would not approve. JP Morgan, one of the world’s strongest, has indicated that they have no objection to anything to the Bank of the Bahamas. And the other thing is that applies also to casino funds, because interactive gaming is legalised for casinos and the question is where are those monies being banked?”
CIBC FirstCaribbean’s Bahamian managing director, Marie Rodland-Allen, confirmed this week that the three Canadian-owned banks were standing firmly behind their position not to accept deposits from a legalised web shop industry noting that her institution - and the likes of Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Scotiabank - were prohibited from accepting web shop gaming deposits by the bank’s worldwide policy.