Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Australia used to 'clean' laundered PNG cash

Australia has been singled out as the money-laundering destination of choice for corrupt Papua New Guinea politicians and officials.

The head of PNG's anti-corruption taskforce says stolen government funds are being washed clean in Australia, and authorities here are doing little to stop it.

Sam Koim, the head of PNG's Task Force Sweep, says his job gets all the more difficult when ill-gotten gains disappear south to Australia.


"There appears to be a lot of monies being transferred by people who have stolen money from the PNG coffers," he said.

"They have been moving money to Australia and we have evidence to show that they have been depositing those monies in Australian bank accounts, and also translating those monies into Australian real estate."

Mr Koim estimates half of the PNG government's annual budget is lost to fraud and corruption through a "mobocracy" of unscrupulous politicians, public servants, lawyers and business people.

He believes tens of millions of dollars of that loss has been sent to Australia, with Cairns the most popular spot to clean dirty money.

Mr Koim says six PNG politicians, who he cannot name because of ongoing investigations, have bought million-dollar properties in the city.

"I think it's common knowledge that Cairns is a hotspot that most of Papua New Guinean proceeds have been invested in. It's a convenient place - just one hour flight [away]," he said.

Last week Mr Koim delivered his message to a major reporters' meeting of the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) in Sydney.

He says Australia must do more to prevent the laundering of funds that are supposed to be spent on schools, hospitals and roads in PNG.

"What Australia should be doing is helping us put more scrutiny on those kinds of transactions," he said.

"Ultimately we want to see is that [money] suspected to have been derived from proceeds of corruption must be repatriated back to PNG."
No commitment

Dr David Chaikin, an expert on money laundering at the University of Sydney's business school, says the issue "doesn't seem to be a matter of high priority."

He says AUSTRAC monitors international funds transfers and banks are required to report suspicious transactions.

But he says there appears to be little will to tackle the problem in Australia, unlike other developed countries.

"The main problem, I think, is enforcement and to what extent there is a prioritisation and the spending of resources to deal with the problem of foreign corrupt proceeds being in Australia," he said.

"For example, the United Kingdom has taken anti-money laundering action against senior government officials in countries such as Zambia and Nigeria.

"This includes criminal prosecutions for money laundering and millions and millions of pounds being frozen and ultimately confiscated and sent back to those countries in Africa."

The ABC put Mr Koim's concerns to Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, but she has been unavailable for comment.

ABC NEWS