Don't turn realtors into detectives
Last year, we were introduced to POCA (Proceeds of Crime Act), in which realtors were told (not asked) that we would be required to assist in tracking illegal funds (money laundering). This was passed into law with effect April 1, 2014.
It is now mandatory for licensed real-estate professionals to interrogate and document all their clients, and on suspicion of money laundering, report them to the relevant authorities. Failure to do so can bring us a fine of $1 million or 12 months in jail if it is later discovered that we facilitated a real-estate transaction and neglected to alert the authorities that the client was suspect.
This cannot be right. We are not trained as criminal investigators. That is the job of the police. This law was passed without consultation with the persons directly involved in this field of work, which, if they had done so, would have given them a clearer picture of our views and procedures.
At a meeting Thursday for real-estate dealers, hosted by the Real Estate Board (REB), presenters were from the Financial Investigations Division (FID), Bank of Jamaica, and the REB. The meeting was also attended briefly by some members of the US Treasury Department. (The reason for their presence was not made known to us.)
We were advised that many other entities are currently screening their clients, namely banks, cambios, credit unions, insurance companies, etc. This is all well and good, since they handle cash and other monetary instruments, but during the question-and-answer period after the presentations, it was pointed out that most of us realtors do not handle funds, as monies are paid directly to the attorneys involved in sale transactions.
In rental transactions, funds are paid to the lessor, who then pays the realtor. Attorneys, in turn, for the most part, receive purchase money through a bank, where the required cheques would already have been prepared.
We understand that less than one per cent of the population (roughly 30,000 persons) is suspect. What this law does, however, is to treat everyone doing any sort of business in Jamaica as a criminal - guilty until proven innocent. It is cumbersome, burdensome, time-consuming and counterproductive.
The awesome responsibility of making a judgement call, as well as the frightening consequences of either being right or wrong in that judgement, are not to be taken lightly either. Although confidentiality is promised by the FID, one cannot be sure.
Certainly the Government could devise a better plan to track money laundering.
Jewel Homes & Properties Ltd
07 June 2014
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