Belize: Law of Offshore
Money Laundering Law
The Money Laundering (Prevention) Act, 1996 defines money laundering as engaging, directly or indirectly, in a transaction that involves property that is the proceeds of crime, knowing or having reasonable grounds for believing the same to be the proceeds of crime; or receiving, possessing, managing, investing, concealing, disguising, disposing of or bringing into Belize any property that is the proceeds of crime, knowing or having reasonable grounds for believing the same to be the proceeds of crime. Under Belizean legislation, money laundering is also considered an offence for the purpose of any law relating to extradition or the rendition of fugitive offenders.
The legislation stipulates that anyone who engages or who attempts, aids, abets, counsels, or procures the commission of, or who conspires to commit the offence of money laundering is guilty of an offence. The above also includes such persons who at the time of the commission of an offence acted in an official capacity for or on behalf of a body of persons (either corporate or unicorporate) or purported to act in such capacity. However, if such persons provide evidence showing that the offence was committed without their knowledge, consent or connivance, charges may be dropped.
The penalty imposed on those convicted of money laundering can be in the form of a fine, ranging from US$12,500 to US$50,000, or a term of imprisonment of 3-6 years, or a combination of both fine and imprisonment.
The Act also creates an offence of the divulgence of facts or other information to another whereby an investigation is likely to be prejudiced by a person who knows or suspects that an investigation into money laundering has been, is being, or is about to be conducted, punishable by a fine of not more than US$25,000, by imprisonment of no longer than 3 years, or by both.
The falsification, concealment, destruction or disposal of any document or material which is likely to be relevant to an investigation into money laundering or to any order made in accordance with the provisions of this Act is punishable by a fine of not more than US$50,000 or by imprisonment of no longer than 5 years, or both.
An application can be made to the Supreme Court of Belize to freeze the property of, or property in the possession or under the control of a person who has been charged or is about to be charged with a money laundering offence, wherever such property may be located, if the property is alleged to be the proceeds of crime.
After a person has been convicted of a money laundering offence, the court may order that the property, proceeds or instrumentalities derived from or connected or related to such an offence be forfeited and disposed of in such manner as the Minister may direct.
However, all prosecutions, actions, suits or other proceedings brought for any offence, or for the recovery of any fines, penalties or forfeitures, need to be made within 5 years after the date the offence was committed or the cause of action accrued.
Under the MLPA, financial institutions are required to maintain comprehensive records of all business transactions and to report suspicious financial transactions to the Supervisory Authority, which has unfettered access to the records held by financial institutions.
The Act provides the following as examples of ‘suspicious transactions’: “complex, unusual or large business transactions, unusual patterns of transactions whether completed or not, all unusual transactions, and significant but periodic transactions, which have no apparent economic or lawful purpose.”
If financial institutions or their employees, staff, directors, owners or other authorised representatives wilfully fail to report such type of transactions or wilfully make a false or falsified report on such matters they can be charged with a criminal offence. A financial penalty of not more than US $25,000 can be imposed, and the licence of such financial institutions may also be suspended or revoked, if found liable.
Belize's anti-money laundering legislation has been reinforced with the introduction of the Money Laundering And Terrorism Prevention Act, 2008, which was gazetted on December 31, 2008. The Act contains new and improved provisions for the investigation and prosecution of money laundering, terrorism and other related crimes, provides for the forfeiture of the proceeds of crime and terrorist property, and requires reporting entities to take preventative measures to help combat money laundering and terrorist financing, among other measures.
Financial Intelligence Unit Act 2002
On 16 September 2002, the Financial Intelligence Unit Act (FIUA) was enacted to transfer the Anti-Money Laundering Supervisory Authority from the Central Bank of Belize to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
By December 2002, the Financial Intelligence Unit was established, headed by the former Governor of the Central Bank of Belize, Mr. Keith Arnold, as the Director.
The FIU has the power to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, to coordinate the cooperation between law enforcement agencies, government departments and other regulatory bodies in evolving methods and policies to prevent and suppress financial crimes; and to process all request for legal assistance from foreign countries relating to financial crimes.
Financial crimes include those set out in the MLPA but also include more complex financial crimes, such as internet fraud, pyramid schemes, and illegal deposit taking.
The revised Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2008 (MLTPA) came into effect on 1 January 2009. The revisions brought the Act in line with the Financial Action Task Force’s “40 Recommendations and Special Recommendations on Terrorist Financing”. Important changes include:
- New and improved provisions for the investigation and prosecution of money laundering, terrorism and related crimes
- Procedures for the forfeiture of criminal proceeds and terrorist property
- Requirements for relevant entities to take preventative measures to help combat money laundering and terrorist financing
- Broadened scope of crimes designated as serious offences
- Stiffer penalties for violations of the Act
Under the new MLTPA, the Central Bank of Belize was designated the Supervisory Authority for commercial banks, international banks, financial institutions and credit unions and was given the power to issue sanctions for non-compliance with certain provisions of the Act.
Belize is a member of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, an organisation of Caribbean States who have joined forces "to develop and share the latest intelligence on money laundering and other financial crime techniques used in the Caribbean region and elsewhere." This organisation works closely with the world's leading anti-money laundering authority, The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, whose principles Belize also subscribes to.
The legislation makes provisions for the cooperation between the court or other competent authority of Belize and the court or other competent authority of another State on matters concerning money laundering offences in accordance with Belize's Money Laundering (Prevention) Act, 1996, and within the limits of the respective legal systems.
Belize is party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention and is a member of the Organization of American States Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (OAS/CICAD) Experts Group to Control Money Laundering. The USA and Belize signed a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) in September 2000, but it is not yet in force.