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BANKING UPROAR LINGERS

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The row between commercial banks in the Caribbean and the larger ones on the American mainland just would not go away.

In the past week, finance officials from across the globe and from multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) flew to Antigua for a conference on the latest developments in the sector as regional banks complain that they are being unfairly treated by American counterpart institutions.

Governments have since the beginning of 2016 been complaining that federal officials in the United States have stepped up pressure on American banks such as Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Citibank to increase scrutiny on transactions from the Caribbean region because monitors think it is easy to stash illegal money in the Caribbean.

The result is that the Americans have moved to cut ties with banks in the region, forcing governments to organize the global conference both to seek a solution and to try to diminish the perception that the region is an offshore tax haven for people involved in dirty financial transactions.

Updating the region on the two-day Antigua conference, governments said in a statement that the European Union is to give the region Euros 4.5 million in grant aid to help them tighten banking regulations and to eliminate the international stigma as a region where it is easy to stash illegal money.

The mid-week missive from the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat noted that the money will be used to harmonize anti-money laundering legislation in the group of 15 nations and comes just as the mega American banks are severing ties with counterpart institutions in the region because of increased federal pressure to scrutinize transactions from the region.

Official figures indicate that close to 20 banks from Guyana, down south at the bottom of the community to Belize in the far north, have been affected by the moves — banned by Bank of America and others from international transactions. Most have now turned to Crown Agents Bank of the United Kingdom to complete transactions.

The foreigners say that the volume of transactions from the Caribbean is simply too small to bother themselves spending more money on monitoring so it is simply easier to dump them altogether as they have in fact done.

Checks, wire transfers and other transactions are no longer ‘processable.’

“With regard to the unfair and unfortunate labeling of the Caribbean as a tax haven, the conference noted that such labeling is grounded more in perception than reality. Caribbean jurisdictions participating in the conference resolved to launch a targeted and focused campaign aimed at eliminating this false characteri­zation,” the statement said.

But they nevertheless praised the European Union noting that the two-day conference welcomes the money “as a means to address such deficiencies as exist.”

“The provision of correspondent banking services is a lifeline to Caribbean economies without which the region would be excluded from the global finance and trading system,” the statement said, noting that “the withdrawal of correspondent banking relations has grave consequences for Caribbean economies, it also poses serious threats to global financial stability and security.”

Governments also argued that the moves to exclude the region could drive transactions underground and away from the formal monitoring system.

Some of the grant aid would be used to help the region harmonize or draft one set of laws to government banking in the bloc. This is even as governments appeal to global monitoring agencies to also come up with one set of clear, precise criteria with which they could comply as some bodies do not regard the region as a tax haven for illegal money.

Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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