Belize recognizes the importance of vigilance in the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing and is proud to have taken tremendous strides to strengthen its role in the international network. This week, in a showing of strong political will, Government and Opposition came together to pass six pieces of legislation and three regulations designed to substantially enhance Belize’s AML/CFT regime and overall compliance with FATF Standards.
After the CFATF Plenary last May, Belize reaffirmed its commitment to the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing and redoubled its efforts to address strategic deficiencies and strengthen its national AML/CFT architecture. Although Belize was able to report progress in implementing assessor recommendations, the progress was not sufficient. Since then, national authorities introduced legislative measures, opened new avenues for national co-ordination, and engaged outreach to the various DNFBP sectors.
After consultation with key AML/CFT stakeholders, six pieces of legislation were passed by the Belize National Assembly and three key Regulations were enacted. Legislative measures include comprehensive amendments to the Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Act (MLTPA). These amendments seek to comply with recommendations made by CFATF Assessors in relation to FATF Recommendations 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22,24, 27, 31, 34, 38, and Special Recommendations I, II, III, VI, VII, VIII and IX. Specific measures include but are not limited to:
- strengthening customer due diligence, record keeping, compliance and reporting obligations for financial institutions
- enhancing compliance with CFT obligations, particularly freezing and confiscating terrorist assets, expedited implementation of targeted financial sanctions by the UN Security Council, clarifying listing and de-listing procedures and including NPOs in the AML/CFT supervisory regime
- establishing the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee as a statutory body to advise the Minister of Finance and co-ordinate national AML/CFT efforts
- strengthening and clarifying the sanctions regime, including implementation of a comprehensive administrative penalty regime
- extension of the AML/CFT framework to DNFBs.
Legislative measures were also taken to address deficiencies in Belize’s compliance with FATF Recommendations 35, 36, 38 and 40 and Special Recommendations I and V. A new Mutual Legal Assistance and International Co-Operation Act has been enacted to facilitate the widest range of assistance to be given and received by Belize in investigations, prosecutions and judicial proceedings in relation to criminal matters, including the freezing, seizing and confiscation of proceeds and instrumentalities of crime and terrorist property. This Act establishes a single competent authority for the receipt and processing of requests for mutual legal assistance and empowers the Attorney General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to undertake international co-operation inquiries to and on behalf of foreign countries.
Other legislative measures include amendments to the Financial Intelligence Unit Act to strengthen operational independence, enhance security of tenure for the FIU Director and minimise opportunity for political interference. The Domestic Banking and Financial Institutions Act was amended to specifically prohibit formation of and dealing with shell banks. Amendments to the Insurance Act now require a fit and proper assessment for changes in management or shareholding of insurance companies and applications for associations of underwriters. Likewise, shareholders or owners of international financial service providers are now subject to a fit and proper test by virtue of an amendment to the International Financial Services Commission (Licensing) Regulations. The Companies Act was amended to ensure that information on the beneficial ownership of registered companies maintained in the Companies Register. New regulations have been made to more fully articulate the supervisory regime applicable to DNFBPs and to set out details regarding the constitution and procedures of the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee.
All of this legislation was introduced to the National Assembly on 22 January and, in a demonstration of strong political will and co-operation, was given expedited consideration and passed by both houses of the legislature. Each piece of legislation mentioned above took effect on 7 February 2014, when the primary legislation received assent from the Governor General, and was published in the Gazette on the same day.
In anticipation of the passage of these legislative measures, administrative structures were put in place to allow for expedited registration of DNFBPs and NPOs, which began immediately when the laws came into effect. Educational outreach has already begun with the publication of FATF and FSRB best practice and guidance papers via direct email and links made available on the FIU website. An informational brochure for NPOs and NGOs was prepared and distribution to the sector began as soon as the legislation took effect.
Belize understands that these accomplishments do not mark the completion of its efforts to enhance implementation of the FATF Standards. Belize will remain actively committed to the continued improvement and implementation of a robust national AML/CFT regime