By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas will exploit the European Union’s (EU) “reprieve” to “shore up” its financial crime defences to withstand any future challenges, the deputy prime minister pledged yesterday.
KP Turnquest told Tribune Business that the government will not wait for the European Commission to revive its list of jurisdictions that allegedly pose a “high risk” to financial system integrity. He revealed that it instead plans to take a proactive approach that ensures The Bahamas puts its “house in order” and does not leave it to others to define it.
The Bahamas, he added, will enact reforms that maintain compliance with international standards while also protecting the financial services and its clients, and is less worried about what the likes of the EU and Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) think of its regulatory regime.
Mr Turnquest said this nation “certainly supports” the EU’s rejection of its own 23-strong list of nations, which included The Bahamas, deemed to pose a “high risk” of financial crime. Ministers from its 28 member nations unanimously vetoed the list on the basis that it was not drawn up in a “transparent”, proper process, thereby leaving the EU vulnerable to legal challenge.
“We do recognise it’s a temporary reprieve, if you will,” he added, “and we have to continue to work on our side of the fence, which is our focus today. We are working on the deficiencies identified to ensure we shore them up and put ourselves in a position where we’re unable to be legally challenged by independent reviewers, whether they’re the EU, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) or anyone else.
“We don’t see it really as a breathing space. We are committed to doing our part to demonstrate we’re a compliant, well-regulated jurisdiction with respect to international standards, and that has nothing to do with the EUs and OECDs of the world.”
Mr Turnquest said The Bahamas was working to correct the “documentary deficiencies we have” in the anti-money laundering and counter terror financing regulatory regime, adding: “We’re working on those so that everyone understands in black and white what the system is and how it works.
“That’s to our benefit, and the reputation and transparency of the jurisdiction, as we go out and represent our people and our clients. While most are focused on the OECD and EU, and what they have to say, more important from our perspective is our assessment of where we are and what we have to say.”
Mr Turnquest confirmed that The Bahamas is was focusing on escaping the FATF’s monitoring list as rapidly as possible, given that its inclusion on the now-rejected EU list - as well as previous advisories issued by the UK and US - all stemmed from that placement.
The Bahamas has agreed an “action plan” to address the deficiencies identified in its anti-financial crime defences by the FATF, the global standard setter in the fight against money laundering and terror financing, and its regional affiliate, the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF).
The deputy prime minister said The Bahamas’ inclusion on the EU list had resulted from the latter “blindly” taking the FATF version and simply merging it with its own - without any regard for the progress and improvements identified by the CFATF late last year.
Suggesting that such sloppiness is what placed the European Commission’s list in trouble with the member EU states, Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business: “We’re using the FATF review as a point of inflexion, and that’s what we’re aiming to correct as soon as possible, as that’s more important than whatever any jurisdiction says.
“We have to ensure our system is sound and demonstrate it to be so. That’s where we’re at. Once we’re able to confidently say our house is in order, it gives us a position and strength to go into the world and say we’ve complied with all best practices and, second, leave us alone as there is no basis.”