By Ramesh Sujanani
There was a recent seminar in which the head of Jamaica’s FID (Financial Investigation Division) outlined the purpose of some new acts in process of legislation: namely, AML, POCA, FATCA, ARA (Money Laundering Act, Proceeds of Crimes Act, Foreign Asset Tax Compliance, Asset Recovery Agency, which are all relate to the seizure and confiscation of assets, allegedly from persons involved in criminal acts.
FATCA is a United States law aimed largely at collecting revenue from Americans living overseas.
The theory is, you catch a suspect by his monetary assets, without regard to any consideration of his legitimate earnings, trade or business. All these acts in my estimation have the same direction, and they are all intended to confiscate assets without going through the courts.
When I was first introduced to them, I thought they were intended for terrorists, gun runners, drug traffickers and human Traffickers, all serious crimes of criminal intent. I never imagined that the intention of these acts would be the collection of additional revenue, irrespective of any revenue laws.
These new offences caused outrage in much of the professional community, with solicitors arguing that the act would force them to breach professional privilege and act against the interests of their own clients.
Some claimed the act was so broadly drafted that professionals, fearful of prosecution, would send law agencies a flow of useless reports relating to trivial breaches of the law.
It was the US Patriot Act that seemed to become the background for many of these pieces of legislation, like POCA in the UK in 2002, and POCA in Jamaica in 2008, which permitted various actions of the state such as forfeiture of assets, imprisonment, fines and other inimical legislation, wire-taps, recording conversations. All the government seems to have to do is conclude that you are suspect in a serious crime, declare that you obtained assets by criminal means, or call you an enemy combatant, and the acts permit them to seize your assets.
This they will do, without knowing and showing what crime took place and when. You could win money at the track, and all your assets would be seized unless or until you can prove that was where the money came from, and an advice will be sent to tax authorities about your money and other assets. These actions may be done without a consent order from a magistrate in court, or a hearing, or a trial, under the POCA Acts.
We have no terrorism in Jamaica, except crime that needs greater management, so why are we implementing laws that will upset our people and take away their rights?
We are not in the same position as the United States or Britain in that regard — so why should we adopt laws that do not have any justification?
Or is it that we may earn extra revenue from confiscated assets? They may belong to someone else.
Surely we have enough laws to collect revenue, without finding it necessary to raid people’s homes without the approval of a court.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.