Published On: Thu, Feb 21st, 2019

MOT handles billions in unusual financial transactions

Justice Minister in Parliament Committee Meeting - 20 Feb 2019

PHILIPSBURG – In 2017 and 2018, St. Maarten’s Financial Intelligence Unit (MOT) received close to 53,000 reports about unusual financial transactions with a combined worth of 29.7 billion guilders ($16.6 billion). Over these two years, MOT analysts deemed more than 1,700 transactions with a combined value of 293.2 million guilders ($163.8 million) to be suspicious.

MOT Director Lygia Stella in Parliament 20 Feb 2019These numbers appeared from a presentation by MOT-director Ligia Stella in a meeting of the parliamentary Justice Committee on Wednesday morning.

In 2016, the MOT received 20,218 reports worth 8.1 billion guilders ($4.5 billion) from financial and non-financial institutions about unusual transactions. In 2017 these numbers were 26,238 (15.9 billion guilders – $8.9 billion) and in 2018 they totaled 26,480 (13.8 billion guilders – $7.7 billion).

The totals over the years 2016 -2018 are: 72,936 unusual transactions with a combined value of 37.8 billion guilders ($21.1 billion); 2,852 suspicious transactions with a value of 389.5 million guilders (($217.6 million).

With 233 million, the value of suspicious financial transactions in 2018 was almost four times as high as in 2017, when the total value was 60.2 million guilders.

These numbers show that over the years 2016 – 2018 the average unusual financial transaction represented a value of a bit more than $289,000; the average value of suspicious transactions over the same period was $76,297. This means that St. Maarten’s financial systems handle more than $2 million in unusual and more than $210,000 in suspicious transactions every day.

The average value of suspicious transactions was $46,822 in 2016, $93,942 in 2017 and $96,728 in 2018.

In 2015, the Today newspaper reported based on an interview with the MOT that the reporting center registered more than 31,500 unusual transactions over the period 2011-2015 and that 8,769 transactions were deemed suspicious; they were forwarded to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for further handling.

In 2014, the prosecutor’s office received 1,138 reports of suspicious financial transactions. In its 2014 annual report the prosecutor’s office stated that it did not investigate a single one of these transactions.

Two years later the situation has not improved. In its 2016 annual report the prosecutor’s office describes the procedure for selecting transactions worth investigating. “Unfortunately, just as in previous years, investigative capacity has remained a problem due to which many reports of suspicious transactions remained stuck in the early stages.”

Stella said in the committee meeting that “less than one percent” of reported unusual transactions are forwarded to the prosecutor’s office as suspicious.

MP Rolando Brison on presentation MOT in Parliament 20 Feb 2019MP Rolando Brison was taken aback by the numbers and asked whether there is a cumulative effect in play. According to Minister De Weever this is not the case. Brison said he did not trust the numbers because the value of the unusual transactions dwarfs the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which stands at around 1.8 billion guilders.

The Financial Intelligence Unit was established on 10-10-10 as the successor of the FIU that operated in the former Netherlands Antilles. The FIU’s activities aim to comply with recommendations from the Financial Action Task Force that are geared towards combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

Minister De Weever said that one piece of legislation that must be put in place to comply with these recommendations has to be approved by Parliament by the deadline of March 1.

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