Local law enforcement authorities now have the power to seize any amount of money, once they suspect it to be the proceeds of drug trafficking or drug money laundering.
This is possible with new amendments to the territory’s Drug Trafficking Offences Act. These changes passed in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, May 11.
Attorney General (AG) Dawn Smith said the 2021 amendments to this law widens the circumstances under which a police officer or Customs officer may seize cash. Those circumstances now include having reasonable grounds to suspect that money found in the territory is intended to be used for criminal conduct or that it represents the proceeds of crime.
“These enforcement powers will ensure greater certainty with regard to the ability of law enforcement to appropriately deal with cash found in the Virgin Islands without attaching any specific threshold,” the AG stated.
“The governing rule will be the suspicion attached to it in relation to drug trafficking or drug money laundering,” she added. “The Bill makes it a requirement — in respect of every drug trafficking offence where it is considered reasonable to do so — for an investigating officer or the Financial Investigation Agency (FIA) to expand the investigation to establish whether or not a drug money laundering offence may also have been committed.”
Smith said this will ensure that investigating officers are not confined to investigating only the normal established drug trafficking offences under the law, but also widen the net to better protect the BVI against activities relative to drug money laundering.
Suspicious financial reports now filed with FIA, not police
In addition to this, the legislative amendment formally establishes the FIA as the central institution in the BVI with the responsibility for receiving suspicious activity reports (SARs).
Smith said, this removes the ability for SARs to be filed with a police officer, and requires them to be filed solely with the FIA.
This measure, she explained, removes any doubt created as to which institution has the primary duty of collecting and analysing SARs.
The FIA typically has a ‘Steering Committee’ responsible for leading the conduct of investigations of the Agency. However, a proposal has been made to reform the laws governing the FIA; allowing for the work assigned to the Steering Committee to now be performed “exclusively by the FIA”.
With this proposed reform, the Drug Trafficking Offences Act has also been amended by “removing the [all] references to the ‘Steering Committee’ and substituting or retaining references to the FIA”, Smith explained.
The said Bill also seeks to effect amendments made in the Drug Trafficking Offences (Amendment) Act, 2017, which did not take into account the changes made in the 2013 revision of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act.
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