Business & Economy

Westpac to pay record fine over money laundering breaches

Sydney, Australia, Sep 24 (efe-epa).- Westpac has agreed to pay a AU$1.3 billion ($917 million) fine for more than 23 million breaches of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws, watchdog Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac) said Thursday.

“The penalty order made will represent the largest ever civil penalty in Australian history” if approved by the federal court, the financial crime agency said in a statement.

Some of the breaches were transactions possibly linked to child exploitation, Austrac said.

The breaches of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act included a failure to properly report more than 19.5 million international funds transfer instructions (IFTI) worth AU$11 billion, and “carry out appropriate customer due diligence in relation to suspicious transactions associated with possible child exploitation.”

It also failed to pass on information and keep records relating to the origin of some of the international funds transfers, and assess and monitor risks, the watchdog said.

Austrac’s chief executive officer Nicole Rose said the “penalty reflects the serious and systemic nature of Westpac’s non-compliance.”

“Westpac’s failure to implement effective transaction monitoring programs, and its failure to submit IFTI reports to Austrac and apply enhanced customer due diligence in relation to suspicious transactions, meant Austrac and law enforcement were missing critical intelligence to support police investigations,” she added.

Westpac had set aside AU$900 million in anticipation of a large fine after the scandal erupted last year.

Austrac launched legal action in November, and in a statement filed with the federal court, it alleged that Westpac had failed to “carry out appropriate customer due diligence on transactions to the Philippines and South East Asia that have known financial indicators relating to potential child exploitation risks.”

It also said it had failed to “appropriately assess and monitor the ongoing money laundering and terrorism financing risks associated with the movement of money into and out of Australia.”

The bank’s chief executive officer Peter King on Thursday issued a statement apologizing for the “bank’s failings.”

“We are committed to fixing the issues to ensure that these mistakes do not happen again. This has been my number one priority,” he said.

“We have also closed down relevant products and reported all relevant historical transactions.” EFE-EPA


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