Bandar Seri Begawan (The Brunei Times/ANN) - Brunei has introduced sweeping anti-money laundering laws that grant enforcement agencies extensive powers to seize businesses, freeze accounts and compel individuals to list their assets through "unexplained wealth declarations".
The creation of the Criminal Asset Recovery Order and amendments to Anti-Terrorism Order will provide authorities "stronger tools to address financial crime" said the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) in a media statement yesterday.
The new laws significantly enhance the powers of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), giving them the authority to suspend transactions, access and review information related to the government, financial institutions or non-financial businesses and professions (NFBP) such as realtors, lawyers, accountants and jewellers.
All cash transactions above US$15,000 made through these agents must be reported to FIU, failing which the individual could be jailed for up to five years and fined up to $50,000. The obligation is also extended to dealers of high-value goods, such as car dealerships.
Under the order, financial institutions and NFBP are also required to pay closer attention to politically-exposed persons and other "high-risk customers" and must verify and report any suspect transactions. Current "Know-Your-Customer" and "Customer Due Diligence" guidelines in banks are now legally binding requirements.
The public prosecutor can also compel individuals to submit "Unexplained Wealth Declarations".
"Any property, service, advantage or benefit that is a constituent of a person's wealth is presumed not to have been lawfully acquired unless the person establishes to the contrary," the Order reads.
The new legislation also allows the public prosecutor to recover criminal assets from those convicted of serious offences or money-laundering. This provision applies retroactively, meaning individuals who have been convicted of serious offences, such as corruption, before the laws came into effect may have their assets seized and forfeited to the state.
Assets or funds recovered through this process will be deposited into the Criminal Assets Confiscation Fund, which will be maintained by the Ministry of Finance, and can be used for training of law enforcement and to compensate victims of money-laundering offences.
The Order defines money laundering as engaging directly or indirectly in a transaction that involves money or property that is the proceeds of crime or concealing or disposing of such funds. It also criminalises bringing such funds into Brunei.
"(It) will allow authorities in Brunei Darussalam to investigate financial criminals such as perpetrators of get-rich-quick schemes and other similar scams which prey on innocent members of the public," said the AGC.
The customs and immigration departments are given greater powers of search and seizure under the new laws, with the authority to seize cash upon suspicion that it is "tainted property" used in illegal activities. Foreign countries can also apply for seizure and confiscation orders against individuals in Brunei.
The introduction of "non-conviction based forfeiture orders" will permit courts to seize assets from a person without being charged or convicted of an offence, provided there is proof the property is "tainted". The law states the the prosecutor only needs to prove their case on a "balance of probabilities".
It is also now an offence to set up a "Shell Bank" in Brunei, defined as a financial institution that does not have a physical presence in the country, with the exception of those that are affiliates of a local banking institution.
The new laws aim to increase transparency and remove procedural complexities contained in previous laws, said the AGC.
It repeals the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the Drug Trafficking (Recovery of Proceeds) Act and the Criminal Conduct (Recovery of Proceeds Act) Order.
The AGC will hold familiarisation talks with law enforcement to ensure effective implementation of the new legislation. The laws came into force on June 16, with the consent of His Majesty, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam.