Legislators passed 18 laws on Thursday and Friday with little to no public debate, just two days before international assessors arrived as part of a key anti-money-laundering review.
Most of the laws were amendments designed to help the territory avoid international censure by achieving higher marks in the ongoing Fourth Round Caribbean Financial Action Task Force Mutual Evaluation.
“This evaluation is very important to the economy and people of the Virgin Islands, and during this sitting we’ll have the second and third readings for a number of legislations which will strengthen us in our regime to combat money laundering,” Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said. “Some of the legislation has come late to the House, but it’s certainly due to the efforts of those helping to prepare us for the evaluation.”
He asked for the public’s “indulgence” as the HOA passed the laws with little to no public discussion despite sometimes extensive debate during closed-door committee sessions.
As part of the mutual evaluation, which the premier said has been ongoing since the second quarter of 2022, a 10-member team from the International Monetary Fund arrived Monday to conduct an on-the-ground assessment through the end of the month.
The assessment will cover areas including the legal and institutional frameworks in place; the adequacy of the territory’s anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism laws and regulations; the effectiveness of supervisory and regulatory bodies; and the territory’s track record in investigating and prosecuting money-laundering and terrorist-financing cases, according to the BVI Financial Services Commission.
“As a founding member of the CFATF, we have an obligation to be assessed periodically,” said BVI FSC Managing Director and CEO Kenneth Baker. “The assessors’ visit to the territory is an important step in the mutual evaluation process.”
The ongoing Mutual Evaluation is based on the Paris-headquartered Financial Action Task Force’s International Standards on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism and Proliferation.
If the VI performs poorly, it could risk being put on a “grey list” of jurisdictions facing enhanced monitoring, potentially affecting the VI’s global reputation. The CFATF, a group of 25 Caribbean jurisdictions, is responsible for regionally implementing standards set by the FATF.
The VI was deemed “largely compliant” during the Third Round Mutual Evaluation that it underwent in 2008.
In the Fourth Round evaluation, the VI is being assessed on expanded and updated criteria following delays due to Hurricane Irma, FSC officials have said.
The raft of legislation passed last week also included an unrelated bill: the Elections Act (Amendment) 2023, which the premier said aims to “maintain a modern approach to the electoral process” in the territory.
Some changes include publishing all voter lists electronically, identifying voters at polling stations via electronic poll books, and expanding the list of people eligible for advanced polling.
Legislators also passed the Police (Amendment) Act 2023 (see story on page six).
18 BILLS, TWO DAYS
The 18 bills rushed through the House of Assembly last week are mostly designed to help strengthen the territory’s laws against money laundering and terrorist financing amid an ongoing review by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force.
- BVI Business Companies (Amendment) Act 2023
- Anti-money Laundering (Amendment) Regulations 2023
- Proceeds of Criminal Conduct (Amendment) Act 2023
- Financing and Money Services (Amendment) Act 2023
- Drug Trafficking Offences (Amendment) Act 2023
- Company Management (Amendment) Act 2023
- Banks and Trust Companies (Amendment) Act 2023
- International Tax Authority (Amendment) Act 2023
- Customs Management and Duties (Amendment) Act 2023
- Stamps (Amendment) Act 2023
- Insurance (Amendment) Act 2023
- Financial Services Commission (Amendment) Act 2023
- Limited Partnership (Amendment) Act 2023
- Counter Terrorism (Amendment) Act 2023
- Criminal Justice International Cooperation (Amendment) Act 2023
- Financial Investigation Agency (Amendment) Act 2023
- Elections (Amendment) Act 2023
- Police (Amendment) Act 2023