MP calls for greater focus on white collar crime asset confiscation
Government’s emphasis on illicit drugs to fund the Confiscated Asset Fund, as opposed to white collar crime that pays much higher dividends, has been questioned by Shadow Minister of Public Safety Michael Scott.
The Proceeds of Crime Amendment Act 2013 was passed in the House of Assembly on Friday, but not before calls for an amendment by the Opposition Progressive Labour Party.
The bill expands the use of money in the Confiscated Assets Fund to allow payments to community-based organisations. The amendment, put forward by PLP MP Kim Wilson, called for recipients to be from areas affected by gun violence or other serious crimes.
The amendment was narrowly defeated. Mr Scott called for the emphasis to be placed on white collar crime. The Sandys North MP cited the recent fine paid by UK-based banking giant HSBC Holdings Plc to pay more than $1.9 billion to US authorities.
HSBC was ordered to pay $1.25 billion in forfeiture and $655 million in civil penalties for “playing a conduit for drug kingpins and rogue nations”. The US Senate investigation centred on HSBC transferring funds through the US financial system from Mexican drug cartels and bypassing restrictions placed on nations like Iran, North Korea and other states subject to international sanctions.
While commending the Government for moving forward with the amendment he said: “We can’t do all of this on the back of the drug dealer.”
Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 1997, he said the confiscation orders come in two parts, one for drug trafficking under the Misuse of Drugs Act which covers assets ranging from cash, boats, jetskis and gold. The second part extends to securities and the recovery of securities from crimes like money laundering should also play a key role.
“That’s where Bermuda does have, this is where our economy circulates around the management of wealth in our country,” said Mr Scott.
“If the truth be known, HSBC International was fined billions. We could solve all of our problems with a properly funded confiscation asset fund. It could produce the roads, build the schools, deal with the drug issues and rehabilitation issues in a very comprehensive way if the stimulus and zeal to go after or to deploy confiscation orders is more zealously pursued.
“Now the persons or the institutions that have this power are the courts, but I think the more relevant official is the Director of Public Prosecutions. And this is where we should see activism, this is where the activism should take place, I imagine by the law enforcement, but we don’t see it.
“We can’t do all of this on the back of the drug dealer because frankly the Commissioner of Police Michael DeSilva is very busy and successful at taking a lot of the criminal offenders out of circulation. The point is they don’t always have a level of proceeds connected with their activity.
“Were we to be more focused in other relevant offences, we may find that we would attract and detect more funding.”
His comments came just before the Minister disclosed that $1.5 million in assets ordered seized by the Supreme Court up to ten years ago had yet to be collected by the DPPs office.
Mr Scott said no one or no institution should be exempt from the law.
“I believe that there is more muscle in terms of funding under relevant offences than there is against confiscation orders under the Drugs Act.
“And so, in concluding I must commend the Minister and the Government for the expansion initiative. It’s timely and it makes sense but it would work with greater efficacy if we had the funding piece as the focus too, another day perhaps, but it is something for us to consider.”