Bid to seize $400,000 as proceeds of crime fails
The Supreme Court has rejected a bid to seize $400,000 from the wife of a man convicted of money laundering in Ecuador.
The court heard that the money was transferred into a SunLife account owned by Esmeralda Patino in 2015.
While Ms Patino said the money was raised by the sale of land in Quito, Ecuador, the Crown argued it was the proceeds of criminal activity by her husband, Marcelo Lopez.
Chief Justice Narinder Hargun said that in all the circumstances, the court could not be sure that the property had originally been bought with ill-gotten gains.
Mr Justice Hargun, in a decision dated April 5, said: “The applicant’s case appears to be based on the proposition that all assets acquired by the respondent and Lopez during the period 2013 to 2016 are tainted with Lopez’s unlawful conduct and are to be considered as assets acquired by the proceeds of unlawful conduct.
“In the court’s view that proposition goes too far and cannot by itself discharge the burden of establishing, on a balance of probabilities, that a particular asset acquired during the period 2013 to 2016 was acquired by the funds obtained through unlawful conduct.
“This is particularly so where, as is the case here, there are factors which point in the opposite direction.”
The court heard that between 2011 and 2013, Lopez was employed as a contracts executive for Petroecuador, the Ecuadorean state-owned oil business.
He was arrested in Florida in 2017 on suspicion of a $2.1 million money-laundering scheme and entered into a plea agreement the following year.
It was alleged that Lopez had accepted bribes for contracts and then laundered the money through property purchases financed by offshore shell companies that used foreign bank accounts.
The money-laundering scheme allegedly took place between 2013, when Lopez left Petroecuador, and 2016.
Prosecutors said Lopez sold a plot of land in Ecuador in 2015 — in the midst of the money-laundering scheme — with much of the proceeds going from his and Ms Patino’s joint bank account to Ms Patino’s SunLife account five days later.
Peter Sanderson, counsel for Ms Patino, said that records confirmed the property had been purchased and sold by the couple in their own names, rather than through a shell company.
He said there had been no attempt to hide the transaction from authorities, and there was no evidence the land had not been bought with the family’s legal income.
Mr Justice Hargun said that Ms Patino and Lopez were a professional couple in their 50s and there was no evidence that they could not have purchased the land with their own resources.
But he added that if the court had found the funds were the proceeds of criminal activity, the fact that the crimes took place in another country would not have been enough in itself to halt the seizure.
Mr Justice Hargun said: “Bermuda, as a leading international business jurisdiction, has a compelling interest in ensuring that companies incorporated in this jurisdiction are not used for the purposes of depositing proceeds of unlawful conduct even if the unlawful conduct took place outside the jurisdiction.”