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Minister Contradicts Sebas With Money Transfer 'Blacklist'

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Minister of Tourism yesterday contradicted Sebas Bastian, Island Luck's principal, by suggesting the Bahamas' could again be 'blacklisted' through web shops acting as unregulated money transfer businesses.

Dionisio D'Aguilar, in an address to the House of Assembly, said it was "worrying" that web shops were filling the void created by commercial banks closing branches and withdrawing from more sparsely-populated Family Islands.

He added that, as a result, more Bahamians were increasingly using gaming houses as a means to conduct normal household and commercial transactions, and send and move money through the country - even though the sector was not licensed to provide money transmission services.

"The fact that clearing houses are closing branches throughout the archipelago, and leaving numerous islands without any banking facilities at all, [means] gaming houses are unintentionally - or intentionally - becoming the easiest and cheapest way to move cash throughout the islands," Mr D'Aguilar said.

"Mr Speaker, this is worrying because this type of unregulated cash movement without any Know Your Customer (KYC) regimes in place will surely, at some time, set off some alarm somewhere in the world in one of those organisations that can put us on some list, typically known as the 'blacklist', and injure our ability to conduct banking relationships."

The web shop industry would likely vehemently reject Mr D'Aguilar's assertion that it has no KYC regime in place, but the Minister's comments appear to contradict Mr Bastian's position that the sector is "the least likely" to be abused by money launderers or other financial criminals.

Mr Bastian, who responded to criticism by financial services executive, Paul Moss, in yesterday's Tribune Business, argued that the web shop sector "operates under the tightest magnifying glass in the country".

He added that all licensed web shops applied strict Know Your Customer (KYC) and due diligence standards, given that they were being held to global best practices and closely supervised.

"The gaming industry operates under the tightest magnifying glass in this country," said Mr Bastian. "No industry undergoes greater scrutiny. We are regulated by, and visited by, the Gaming Board on a daily basis, just as the casinos at Atlantis and Baha Mar are.

"One of the most respected accounting firms in the region is the firm of record to review all of our transactions. We bank with a bank that is supervised by the Central Bank of the Bahamas, and is compliant with international risk compliance standards."

Mr Moss, president of Dominion Management Services, had also argued that web shops were operating as unlicensed banks and money transmission providers in Family Island communities where there is no commercial bank presence.

And he suggested that the way in which the sector was legalised had exposed "a glaring deficiency in our system" that could attract attention from international regulatory bodies.

Mr Bastian, though, countered that the web shop industry was the segment least likely to produce anti-money laundering/terrorism financing risks from a financial services perspective.

"There is absolutely no justification to tarnish respected professionals and institutions," he said. "Government wanted the industry regularised so that there would be security surrounding it, and we would be held to the standards that are acceptable in a world in which there is greater and greater concern with the source of funds.

"The reason reporting standards have gotten tighter is to guard against funds that could be linked to terrorist financing or other activities that could wreak havoc on a global scale. Our source of funds is so evident - a local population, with each and every person having to show proof of residence or citizenship. So, in fact, we are the least likely to be on a 'watch list' or raise concern from those whose prying eyes are trying to keep the world safe."

Mr D'Aguilar, meanwhile, said the Gaming Board will "consult" with the Central Bank to determine how to move forward and "ensure that the gaming houses do not negatively impact the stability of our financial sector".

The Central Bank earlier this year introduced the Payment Instruments (Oversight) Regulations 2017, which was designed as the supervisory framework for electronic payments solutions and providers.

Mr Bastian and Island Luck have previously expressed an interest in obtaining a license under this regime, but John Rolle, governor of the Central Bank, confirmed to Tribune Business earlier this week that no such licenses have yet been issued.

He added, though, that non-bank institutions already licensed by the Central Bank - the likes of money transmission providers and credit unions - had "expressed an interest in expanding their product lines" through such services.

Mr D'Aguilar, meanwhile, suggested none-too-subtly that the Government will seek to impose new or increased taxation on the web shops, describing their profits as "eye popping" for a "cash-strapped" government.

Gaming house operators are currently required to pay 11 per cent of their taxable revenue or 25 per cent of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), depending on which one is greater.

The Minister also hit out at the 10-year moratorium barring new entrants to the web shop gaming industry, suggesting this had allowed existing operators to become "a cartel".

He added that the sector was also consolidating, with the larger web shops acquiring smaller players, as shown by the common ownership of some chains.

Mr D'Aguilar also called on the web shops to do more to combat gambling addiction.

Comments

Reality_Check 2 months, 1 week ago

Repost: Simply unbelievable! Instead of pressing for the web shop legislation to be repealed in its entirety and then enforcing the complete shut down of all web shops, this yapping white-haired little poodle (D'Aguilar) simply told KP Turnquest that he should be imposing much more significant annual taxes and fees on the very impressive annual profits of the web shops. This is tantamount to saying that our government should be quite content to effectively participate as a significant profit-sharing partner in the corrupt money laundering and other racketeering activities of the numbers' bosses. Such an absurd stance by the Minnis-led FNM government only serves to anger regulators of the global financial system who cannot understand why our newly elected (and supposedly uncorrupt) government refuses to shut down the web shops and other related organizations owned and operated by the numbers' bosses that the developed countries regard as criminal enterprises. The IMF, FATF, OECD, etc. are all now telecasting loud warnings that our country will face increased "de-rerisking" by the highly regulated global financial community, and a possible cutting-off from the global financial system, if we do not shut down the money laundering and other illegal activities of the numbers' bosses. It seems abundantly clear now that Minnis and his cabinet ministers have allowed themselves to be "bought" by criminal thugs like Sebas Bastian! This would make our new government no different than the last one when it comes to corruption and who is really calling the shots in our country today. Has Minnis really allowed himself to become nothing but a puppet PM beholden to Sebas Bastian?!!

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 months, 1 week ago

Re-post:

Minnis had better come to his senses in a hurry because things he cannot control are rapidly reaching a tipping point. What needs to be done is all too easy:

1) Fully repeal all of the web shop legislation passed by the corrupt Christie-led PLP government against the wishes of the vast majority of Bahamians, most of whom didn't even bother to vote in the national referendum because they knew full well that Christie was already beholden and committed to the wishes of the numbers' bosses over and above the wishes of most Bahamians.

2) Then enforce the shut down of all web shops and other related entities owned and operated by the corrupt racketeering numbers' bosses like Sebas Bastian and Craig Flowers.

3) Establish a National Lottery for Bahamians who wish to gamble, with sensible guidelines and policies to protect addicted gamblers (and their families) who may be harmed by destructive gambling habits, and with all profits from the lottery going towards funding the financial needs of our under-resourced Ministry of Education.

Minnis must come about and do the only right thing otherwise our country is looking at the very real possibility of being cut-off from the global financial system in the not too distant future. The devastating consequences this would have for all Bahamians should be all too obvious!

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TalRussell 2 months, 1 week ago

Comrades! If the Minnis administration were smart they could get serious with launching a plan that could totally erase the national debt by the year 2037...but not possible if they allow the Numbers Houses to stay in business beyond the next 6 months period. This is not ever going be a positive business for the Bahamaland. Numbers Houses are a spreading sore upon the nation. They should never have been 'regularised,' against the Voting Will of the people. It's time revoke all numbers licenses.All numbers gambling devices used - should be ordered exported off the Bahamaland, or be destroyed by the authorities.
Left alone they will suck BILLIONS dollars from the pockets of the poor and near poor, and the eager get something for monies they cannot afford spend, souls.

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killemwitdakno 2 months, 1 week ago

Y'ALL ACT AS IF CASH ADVANCE, WESTERN UNION, MONEYGRAM, RE-LOADABLE VISA CARDS DON'T EXIST EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD! SHOULD WE NOT HAVE LOCAL PROVIDERS WHEN WE'D QUICKLY ALLOW THE FOREIGNOR TO DOMINATE SUCH MARKETS? WHAT'S THE ALTERNATIVE WHEN THE BANKS WERE FORCED BY FATCA'S DE-RISKING TO PULL OUT ANYWAY.

LIES.

LET THEM BLACKLIST IF THEY'RE GOING TO LIE TO STAMP OUT BLACK OWNED FINANCIAL SERVICES LIKE THEY ATTACK RUSSEL SINMONS' RUSH CARD. REMINDER, IT WAS THERE OWN BANKS THAT RIGGED THE LIBOR, THAT SCREWED THE WORLD IN A LENDING SHARK HOUSING MARKET CRISIS, THAT LAUNDERED DRUG AND TERROST MONEY, NOT THE NUMBER BOYS WHO ARE WATCHED WITH HIGH SCRUTINY. CHECK YOUR OWN LOTTOS.

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bogart 2 months, 1 week ago

You have to be kidding!

If you are conducting activities of a bank and you are licensed to be a web shop or internet cafe or taxi service and the corrective measure is to put forward some legislation or write some clauses (which questions why in the first place the govt lawyers could not see thst loophole) is simply not good enough.

The ability to withdraw money from the money supply causes shortgage less liquifity affects the proper functioning of the Legitimate Banking system. Timing is important brcause Banks have cycles they operate on like increasing interest rates to have high liquidity for loans for August vacations or back to school etc. For the Govt through the Central Bank who monitor weekly liquidity from bank returns and after a year plus since the eebshops were doing this to the money in circilation is alarming.

What is even more alarming is where funds on these accounts are coming from and to whom are the recipients. Yet another questionmark becsuse if an island is facing high unemployment and family from another island is sending them money then the govt does not know to help. Actually couples with gambling it is likely that suffering will be pronounced as persons use scarce funds to gamble.

This development now public should make all the persons in any position in the financial policing and regulayory govt salaried positions alarmed.

Of course now public the internagional regulatory bodies and owners and shareholders of banks operating here will note.

The systen should be shut down but then again people are suffering in the family islands. Breeches and violations of the banking act should be dealt with maximum punishments including jail time and maximum fines for all persons involved. Further investigations into the govt officials as to why this was allowed to happen and whomsoever the fault lies with must be jailed.

Lawsuits should be investigated by legal banks as the normal functioning and protections they expect from the authorities was not fully available and given the size of deposits withheld from which they expected to do business was removed from the money supply they faced losses amd suffered.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 months ago

The disclosures made by D'Aguilar about the illegal money transmission activities of the numbers' bosses provide the Minnis-led FNM government with ample justification for immediately terminating all licenses granted to the web shops and their related entities. This should be followed by the regulators issuing and/or obtaining a court order for the shut down and seizing of all assets and records of these entities and their owners/operators.

Minister D'Aguilar's disclosures made while standing on the floor of the HOA are now a matter of official public record and fully support the global financial community's long standing position that the web shops and their related entities constitute racketeering criminal enterprises engaged in money laundering and other illegal actives. If Minnis fails to press for these criminal enterprises to be shut down, the global financial community will be perfectly within their right to cut-off all financial institutions domiciled in the Bahamas from the global financial system until such time that such "de-risking" is no longer warranted.

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ThisIsOurs 2 months ago

"we bank with a bank that is supervised by the Central Bank of the Bahamas" you can stop with that argument. that only reminds people about years of looting, and who was watching again? "We are regulated by, and visited by, the Gaming Board" That's exactly why everyone's concerned. All this crap happened during their visits

"Our source of funds is so evident".. Actually no its not,

no one knows where your money was coming from during the decades you were operating illegally and no one will ever know. If the government had been serious with fines imposed to regulate you guys, the international community might have been reassured. But they gave you a slap on the wrist. And somehow Flowers' conviction for illegal gaming was overturned because HE didn't know his employees were operating a gaming facility, then the money that was identified as the results of his employees' ILLEGAL operation was returned to him, how does that make sense??? And why would it instill any confidence in anyone that the Bahamas was serious about policing anything.

Do things right the first time and nothing will come back to bite you.

How do they fix it? I'd go with Mudda's suggestions, there's no other way to remove the cloud and trying to do some fancy slight of hand where you end up in the same controlling position will only make things worse, cause they'll know they can't trust this govt to clean you up and police you either

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baldbeardedbahamian 2 months ago

Anyone who enters a web shop to gamble thinking that they are going to come out with more money than they entered with is an arrogant idiot. As the web shop owners know, he Bahamas has tens of thousands of arrogant idiots. Web shops are evil, they exploit the ignorant who do not understand simple mathematics. Gambling is a self imposed tax on people who do not understand mathematics. The government should tax and regulate this industry as much as possible leaving the owners with minuscule profits. Invest the proceeds into mathematics teachers.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 months ago

Unfortunately heavy-handed taxation and fees are not the answer. We cannot afford for our government to be seen to be partnering with criminal enterprises with its share of the ill-gotten profits/gains taking the form of high taxes and fees. Our international friends and the global financial community would much prefer our government shutdown the criminal enterprises headed by the corrupt racketeering numbers' bosses and establish a National Lottery.

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BahamasForBahamians 2 months ago

While I have to support the poodle and you guys in that the web shop industry has been predatory and has only served to enrich the operators, we all have to address the political fortitude required to act in this scenario.

I'm not sure if its in this administration's best interest to touch this issue so early in their term. This can have dramatic effects on its popularity given the significance these jobs have on a particular demograhpics on our community. When we shut them down, how do we find jobs for these people? The commercial banks wont hire the lady from Brougham street punching numbers at Asure Win. Walk into any of the commercial banks today and see the people they hire vs web shop operators.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 months ago

You, Sir, are a hardcore corrupt PLP. As such you obviously support (as Pindling and Christie did) jobs created by the smuggling of drugs, the smuggling of firearms and ammunition, human trafficking and money laundering. Meanwhile, as an elitist PLP, you are quite content to watch as our country is destroyed from within by the activities of criminals with free rein.

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