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Govt launches inquiry into EU blacklisting of Bahamas

The Nassau Guardian May 7, 2020

Chester Robards

The government has launched an “intensive inquiry” into the reasons behind the European Commission’s (EC) decision to add The Bahamas to a blacklist of non-co-operative jurisdictions, without engaging in dialogue first, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday, adding that this country’s ambassador in Brussels was set to meet with the commission yesterday.

According to Bethel, the response from that arm of the European Union (EU) bloc is “aggressive” and “disproportionate”, given that The Bahamas has been fortifying its fight against money laundering, terrorist financing and other risks, contrary to what the EC has stated.

“We are launching an aggressive response to it and we feel it is disproportionate to put The Bahamas on a blacklist when, to the full knowledge of the European Union, The Bahamas has been approved to begin the exiting process from the FATF’s (Financial Action Task Force) grey list,” said Bethel.

“And, The Bahamas is in the midst of an exiting process that was interrupted by COVID-19 affecting not only our own country, but the ability of members of the on-site visiting team to leave their own jurisdictions and come to another jurisdiction in order to perform the on-site inspection.

“So, it is our view that any proposed blacklisting of The Bahamas would be a disproportionate exercise of power by the authorities in Europe and we are asking them for a more measured approach towards this issue and one that is reflective of the dialogue we feel The Bahamas is legitimately entitled to expect; to be extended to a country that has made the progress that we have made in aligning and enhancing our ability to assist in the international fight against terrorist financing, money laundering and the laundering of proceeds of identified risks.

“And, so, that is what we confidently expect will happen in short order.”

Bethel said The Bahamas’ placement on the blacklist could be due in part to the shuffling of the EC’s directorates.

He added that the government found it strange and against the EU’s own policies, that it did not confer with the government before making the decision to blacklist The Bahamas.

“We have launched a very intensive inquiry into what is going on, because even the notice of intended blacklisting in such a manner which it was received [is] apparently in contravention of their announced methodologies as early as January of this year,” he said.

“And, it seems that, from our investigation, that there has been some reshuffling of portfolios among the various directorates of the European Commission; and there is an effort to fully create and staff and give substance to a particular directorate aimed at creating a unified banking system and unified regulations in Europe. And, so, what we have done is we have launched an outreach directly to that commission, that directorate and its leading personnel.”

News agency Reuters reported Tuesday that the EU would officially publish the list of jurisdictions today.

Bethel said COVID-19 derailed the country’s chance to be reviewed by the FATF, but said it could likely happen by August or September.

He is confident that a visit by the FATF would mean the country’s removal from its grey list and show that The Bahamas has made progress in its fight against international financial crimes.

“We are confidently aiming for that,” Bethel said.

“We feel that the progress we are making here in The Bahamas and the fight against COVID-19 is going in the right direction, except for one or two hotspots.

“So, we are going to look to the future. It is impossible to remain in a state of paralysis because of a threat and so, we are positively recommencing all of our efforts to re-engage with the international community and we will see where that takes us.

“Countries and regional blocs will often act in what they perceive to be their economic interest. There’s a difference, though, between protecting your legitimate economic interest and taking a hostile action against a friendly state.

“We would not wish to see a day when our partners in the fight against international terrorism, money laundering and financial crimes decide to take hostile action against us.”

Bethel said The Bahamas has shown good faith in its moves to enhance its capabilities to fight against the actions on which the EC contends the country is non-cooperative.

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