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THE recent inclusion of amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act among Malacanan’s 23 legislative priorities is a welcome development.

The global institutionalization of anti-money laundering and terrorist financing measures has become extremely necessary because of the “internationalization” of transactions.

Bank of England Governor Mervyn King couldn’t have said it clearer:

“The spread of a wide range of financial transactions...has created institutions which are trans-national, which are bigger than the ability of national regulators to control, and which, if they do get into financial difficulties — fortunately not many have, but where they do get into difficulties — then, as we’ve seen, they can cause enormous financial mayhem.”

It is for this reason that the Anti-Money Laundering Council has been pushing for amendments to the existing law on money laundering (Republic Act 9160, as amended by Republic Act 9194).

Hopefully up for discussion soon are the bill sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Sergio Osmena III (SB 2484), and in the House, a consolidated version of bills earlier filed by Rep. Roilo Golez (HB 3323) and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (HB 696).

There are a number of recommended amendments to the AMLA.

However, considered as the two most crucial are:

1) the granting to the AMLC the power to freeze funds and other assets; and

2) allowing AMLC to conduct ex parte bank inquiries.

“AMLC needs fangs, not just teeth, in order to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and organized crimes,” AMLC Secretariat Executive Director Vicente Aquino stressed.

Under Republic Act 9160, or the original AMLA, the AMLC had the power to freeze funds and other assets of suspected money launderers.

However, this authority was removed by Congress when the law was amended in 2003.

“We could have done more and acted on recent money laundering-related issues — particularly those pertaining to military corruption — had the AMLC not been divested of this power,” Aquino said, explaining that the AMLC could have promptly frozen the assets of those suspected to be involved in money laundering.

On the other hand, the prior need to inform a depositor of AMLC’s intent to inquire into deposits has unduly hampered AMLC’s effectiveness.

“This is similar to telling a drug lord that the police will raid his shabu laboratory the next day. Informing the other party of our intention to examine and investigate his or her account is like telegraphing criminals of our plans,” Aquino explained.

Other proposed amendments include the expansion of the definition of “money laundering,” “covered institutions,” “predicate offenses” and the authority to be granted to AMLC to retain 25 percent of the net proceeds of forfeited assets.

Let us hope that these amendments are approved sooner rather than later.

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