HAITI: Money laundering and financing of terrorism: Still playing hide-and-seek / Haiti-observateur

 

 

HAITI: Money laundering and financing of terrorism: Still playing hide-and-seek.

C Considering the language of the vote approving the law regulating UCREF, the State’s unit overseeing banking transactions, it’s obvious that this institution is now under the thumb of the Executive branch. The deputies, as members of the Lower House of Parliament are called, have joined the money laundering crowd. That’s the height of irresponsibility, especially since the Haitian banking system runs the risk of imminent severe sanctions from the Caribbean Fi nan cial Action Task Force (CF ATF). One can hardly believe that the “deputies” acted alone in putting Haiti on a path of financial isolation. Their vote is tailored to protect potentates accused of financial criminal activities. Now those holding top posts in the administration will be able to control the State watchdog agency which originally was set up to be independent.

 

Authoritative voices from the financial world had been sounding the alarm about Haiti running the risk of “de-risking,” the official term for freezing the country from international banking transactions. But the political leadership paid little at tention. Then at the last minute, the “deputies” sprang their law just be fore going on vacation for six weeks. Nearly a year ago the senators had prepared a more palatable version of the law. But the deputies approved their own allowing the Executive branch to name three out of five members of UCREF, including its general director. By granting the President of the Republic the right to appoint the head of the body responsible for investigating money laundering and terrorism financing, Haiti cannot claim to be seriously engaged in the fight against those plagues.

 

As previously reported, the current Head of State, Jovenel Moïse, is under an indictment for money laundering. Certainly, the Moïse-Lafontant administration will rush to dismiss Sonel Jean-Baptiste, the current UCREF chief who had denounced the activities of then Candidate Moï se to the government prosecutor. One can hardly believe that the executive will now choose a totally independent citizen to replace Mr. Jean-Baptiste, who still has one year left in his three-year term. In a country where most of the institutions are under the influence of the President, there’s nothing to prevent Jovenel Moïse from creating a customized UCREF.

 

UCREF will be like the Provisional Electoral Councils (French acronym CEP) that have been doing the bidding of the Executive branch since its creation by the 1987 Constitution, which called for a Permanent Council whose members would be independently named. It’s well known that the current Head of State is the result of a CEP formula dictated by those who were in power. That same CEP made possible the “election” of candidates for various functions, from the President of the Republic to the rural ASECs, the lowest elected officials. The two legislative Chambers also emanated from the CEP formula that put Mr. Moïse in the Palace. Thus the vote of the “deputies” is a deliberate action to thwart the interest of the nation while protecting their chief.

 

Obviously, the country’s major financial players, particularly the bank ing system and its customers, are desperate. Contrary to the political leaders, who are playing hideand-seek in the face of “de-risking” threats on the horizon, they will be the main victims of the financial sanctions. As things stand, Haiti is heading toward a financial catastrophe. By the end of the month, the CFATF is scheduled to review Haiti’s banking situation.Considering that Belize has already been struck with “de-risking,” CFATF is not cuddling those found in violation of international norms regulating financial transactions. It‘s also said that some Domini can banks have already decided to close the accounts of certain Haitian clients whose deposits are suspected of deriving from illicit activities. The precautionary measures allegedly taken by the Dominican bankers are intended to shelter themselves from any action against Haiti.

 

The indifference of the Haitian political establishment has forced some Haitian banks to look elsewhere to shelter their investing funds. Well informed Haitian banking sources have indicated that major Haitian businessmen, whose ac counts have been closed abroad, are seeking to obtain banking services in Panama. But will Panama welcome customers that have been dropped elsewhere? After all, Cajeton Hood, Attorney General of the island of Grenada, and chairman of the Com mission to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing, had warned against doing business with Haitian banks. The Jamaica observer, January 3, 2017, reproduced by the Haitian Le nouvelliste on January 4, quoted Mr. Hood saying the organization he leads “calls on all its members to protect their financial systems against the ongoing risks of money laundering and terrorism financing from Haiti.”

 

The end of May being around the corner, the statement about transnational crime coming from Mr. Hood doesn’t bode well for Haiti. All, except for the Haitian political leaders, see the incoming danger. One wonders whether the Haitian parliamentarians have other facts that allow them to play ostrich with the financial wellbeing of a whole nation! As allies of President Moïse, the “deputies,” or Congressmen, have act ed to protect him against charges of money laundering. It’s also known that some Senators are also suspected of being involved in illicit activities. Thus an Executive-Parliament alliance to spare themselves! But to what end? Have the “deputies” accepted to play the role of sacrificial lambs as the whole country becomes victim of “de-risking”? They’re indeed playing a hide-and-seek game with dire consequences!

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