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Conference helps businesses to counter financial crime

Local businesses were yesterday schooled on how to look out for signs of money laundering or terrorism financing.

A conference held at the Garrison Library looked into regulations surrounding anti-money laundering, proceeds of crime and the prevention of terrorist financing.

The conference was organised by Nicholas Gomez, Head of Litigation at Charles Gomez & Co, and also featured Superintendent Edgar Lopez, at the Gibraltar Financial Intelligence Unit, and Francis Muscat, CEO at the Office of Fair Trading.

Conference organiser Nick Gomez with the RGP's Edgar Lopez and Tom Tunbridge in the background

Businesses such as jewellers, car dealerships, boat sellers, jet-ski sellers, and those in the finance sector can be easy targets for criminals, the RGP’s Detective Inspector Thomas Tunbridge told over 100 participants attending the conference.

He highlighted the hiding of proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs and corporate money laundering as the two main risks for Gibraltar.

Gibraltar is in a strategic location geographically, with large organised criminal gangs operating just at Gibraltar’s doorstep, Mr Tunbridge said, adding: “Where you have criminals and huge amounts of money, they are going to want to launder that money.”

He also highlighted Gibraltar’s role as a finance centre, and said Gibraltarian businesses needed to be alert in order to avoid “unwittingly being used” to launder money.

One way of overcoming this was for businesses to carry out “due diligence” on their customers to find out where the money originates from.

While money laundering is of a big concern to local authorities, combating the financing terrorism remains on the radar as well.

Mr Lopez highlighted the risks posed by large organised terrorist groups such as the so-called Islamic State and how they need money to sustain themselves, but said the higher risk now lies with the “lone wolf acting alone”.

Full house at the Garrison Library

Authorities started to focus on the financial sector for terrorist activity after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and were now able to gather intelligence based on the movements and financial activities of suspects, he explained.

A large terrorist organisation requires large amounts of money but the “lone wolf” can carry out an attack without spending lots of money, Mr Lopez said.

In addition, Gibraltar as an international finance centre, there is a risk that money could  “move” through for terrorism, but Mr Lopez remained confident that this can be overcome easily in Gibraltar due to our size.

“Unlike other countries, you can just pick up the phone and make a report to the GFIU and the RGP and get through easily,” Mr Lopez said.

He also highlighted Project Nexus by the GFIU and Public Private Partnerships to ensure a “proactive” relationship between financial institutions and law enforcement agencies.

Meanwhile, the Office of Fair Trading focuses on enforcement and regulations for businesses to ensure the right protocols are followed through.

Mr Muscat said his office focuses on real estate agents and high-value dealers who can receive £8,000 or more in cash in a single or multiple transactions.

Those businesses are being urged to follow the guidelines and report these transactions otherwise they can face sanctions enforced by the Office of Fair Trading.

Rounding off the conference, Mr Gomez called for more “customer due diligence” on clients, and said that businesses can ask for clients for proof to show where the money comes from.

“Reliance is not a defence,” Mr Gomez said.

“Be proactive to minimise risks, do not sit back and accept what you are told.”

Pics by Fran Montes